Movie Review – The Little Hours

The Little Hours (2017)
Written & Directed by Jeff Baena

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A trio of nuns in a medieval convent gets up to a series of increasingly scandalous and obscene acts. Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie), is the daughter of a struggling merchant who is keeping his daughter in the church until he can marry her off. In the meantime, his charitable contributions are leaving his finances struggling and no dowry coming anytime soon. Sister Ginvera (Kate Micucci) is very sheltered and obnoxious, both wanting to tattle to the head of the convent, Sister Marea (Molly Shannon) while participating in the revelries of her rebellious fellow nuns. Finally, there is Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) who is always sneaking out into the woods at night only to return at the crack of dawn the following morning. Tossed into this mix is Masseto (Dave Franco), a former servant to a noble on the run after sleeping with the noble’s wife. He befriends Father Tommaso (John C. Reilly), and the priest gives him a job as the gardener at the convent.

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Movie Review – The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room (2015)
Written by Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk, & Guy Maddin
Directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson

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A bespectacled man hosts an aged and worn instructional film on how to take a bath. After explaining the opening procedures, the camera dives beneath the murky water, and we see a submarine float by. We cut to inside the submarine where the crew is in dire circumstances. They carry onboard an incredibly volatile substance that, if they were to surface, would combust due to air pressure killing them all. They find a portal in one of the dank, humid chambers that should lead them out into the waters, allowing them to abandon ship and swim to the surface. Instead, when they open a door, a lumberjack soaked to the bone tumbles forward. He begins to tell the tale of his quest to save a maiden from a band of cave-dwelling barbarians only to find the maiden is their den mother. In her sleep, the den mother dreams of another life, as a noir nightclub singer…and so on and so on. The Forbidden Room is a Matryoshka doll of short films, one nested within the other, moving up and down the ladder of stories until they become intertwined and lost within each other.

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Movie Review – Hello, My Name is Doris

Hello, My Name is Doris (2016)
Written by Laura Terruso & Michael Showalter
Directed by Michael Showalter

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Doris Miller (Sally Field) has just lost her mother. She’s lived all her sixty-something years on Staten Island with her mom, and now she isn’t quite sure what to do with her life. She does data entry for an apparel company in the city and finds herself becoming infatuated with John (Max Greenfield), the new art director. Doris begins to challenge her own routines and expand her horizons in a film that seeks to play with our expectations of romantic comedies.

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Movie Review – Rupture

Rupture (2017)
Written by Brian Nelson & Steven Shainberg
Directed by Steven Shainberg

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Renee (Noomi Rapace) is a single mother in Kansas going about her life when a flat tire leads to her abduction by a mysterious cabal of scientists. She’s put through a series of torturous experiments, gets loose and goes climbing through the vents, only to discover she’s a part of the dumbest conspiracy ever, which you can likely guess in the first 20 minutes of the film. My mind is still boggling at how these actors, who are pretty good, could be in a movie like this.

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Movie Review – Buster’s Mal Heart

Buster’s Mal Heart (2017)
Written and Directed by Sarah Adina Smith

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Jonah (Rami Malek) is adrift in the sea in a rickety boat. He’s also been given the nickname Buster and is pillage the mountain home retreats of millionaires in Montana. Yet in another life, he was the concierge at a dead end hotel on the outskirts of those Montana mountains. He had a wife and a young daughter, with plans to save up and buy a piece of land where they could be “free.” Into Jonah’s life comes a strange, nameless drifter (DJ Qualls) who claims to be the Prophet of the Second Inversion and starts talking up Y2K conspiracies theories. Something is happening to Jonah that will lead him down a strange path and result in even the very notion of identity coming into question.

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Movie Review – Prevenge

Prevenge (2017)
Written and Directed by Alice Lowe

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Ruth (Alice Lowe) suffered a terrible tragedy and is now a single pregnant mother to be. Something strange has happened though. She’s begun hearing the squeaky whispered voice of her unborn child. This gestating being compels Ruth to go on a series of murders that seem random at first but slowly reveal a methodology. The reason behind the killings and the tragedy that happens before the film starts to lead to a tragic and disturbing finale.

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The Revisit – Frailty

The Revisit is a place for me to rewatch films I love but haven’t seen in years or films that didn’t click with me the first time. Through The Revisit, I reevaluate these movies and compare my original thoughts on them to how they feel in this more recent viewing.

Frailty (2000)
Written by Brent Hanley
Directed by Bill Paxton

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It’s a rainy night in Dallas, Texas when FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) is called into the office to speak with Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey), a strange man who claims to know secrets behind what authorities have dubbed “The God’s Hand Killer.” Mainly, he tells Doyle that his brother, Adam is the killer. The film becomes a series of flashbacks to Fenton and Adam’s childhood wherein their father (Bill Paxton) claims to have been visited by an angel that tells him which people are truly demons in disguise. He brings the two boys along with him as he hunts down and murders these false humans, but Adam grows increasingly fearful of his father’s actions. Their father begins to see Adam as a threat and takes drastic measures.

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Movie Review – Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin (2014, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

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Blue Ruin opens on the image of a bearded man in a vulnerable state. He’s settled in for a bath when the sound of a door disturbs him. We quickly learn he doesn’t belong in this house and is, in fact, a homeless man. Dwight Evans is living along the East Coast, foraging from dumpsters and sleeping his car. An empathic police officer who knows Dwight lets him know a man convicted of murdering people close to Dwight has been released back home in Virginia. Dwight makes the decision to travel back and get revenge. But, to the film’s enormous credit, this man is not a trained assassin and is not taking into account the disastrous series of events he is about to trigger.

Before Green Room, director Jeremy Saulnier helmed this meditation on the price of retribution. Saulnier did not have many films under his belt, but his technical prowess is already apparent here (and if you have seen Green Room). Light and shadow are used effectively to set the tone, and figures emerge from shadows in a way that adds to their menace. Saulnier shows he has an excellent relationship with editor Julia Bloch (also on Green Room). Together they construct such palpable tension and anxiety through minimalistic cutting techniques. Shots linger for just the right excruciating amount of time and cut to the perfect reaction or follow-up shot. That strength in editing connects to the pacing of the script. The story doesn’t get too heavy too earlier. The dissemination of information to the audience is also heavily controlled. The full details of the crime committed that sent Dwight into a reclusive state isn’t revealed until over halfway into the picture.

The lead performance rests on the shoulders of Macon Blair, a loyal Saulnier collaborator. Blair delivers what audiences might misconstrue as “too subtle” or “non-emotional, ” but there is a density of emotion and history in what he is doing. Dwight is a character who crossed a line of emotional exhaustion years ago. He couldn’t survive in the world if he didn’t pass through the tears and rage. So now Dwight approaches each obstacle with a cold duty. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies anymore, he only feels he has to keep living to carry on an obligation. You might not notice, but he barely speaks for the first 20 minutes of the film, about only one line in that time. So the story is being told in his face, and thankfully Blair has a face, particularly eyes that tell a story.

What hit me hard about Blue Ruin is how relevant its themes are personally and globally. At first, this seems to be a straightforward revenge film, but the revenge comes very early in the movie. I found myself shocked at what the rest of this film would be about. Then both the audience and Dwight realize his first error which compounds into more and more. This compounding of errors leads to Dwight forced into killing more people, and this breaks him down. He seeks out help only to keep himself long enough to try and remedy his errors. When the full revelation of the inciting crime comes to light, we enter a space of moral ambiguity. People Dwight believes are guilty of things may not be the ones who did it. They are not innocent by any means, but the circumstances are significantly more complicated than first revealed.

In a world where we hear the phrase “good guy with a gun” uttered often or people spending hours of their lives attempting to justify an assault on people, they disagree with politically, Blue Ruin, without being didactic, asks us to question this. Someone most definitely harmed Dwight and people he loved, there is no doubt about this. But for every act of violence, he commits he doesn’t honor the memory of the people he lost or bring any peace to himself. Violence compounds violence, as I’ve talked about before in the context of Arya Stark. The film ends with a character who makes a choice not to commit violence. They walk away as others destroy each other. This character’s future, and could end up in the same situation we find Dwight in at the start, but by choosing not to kill they are free of the curse, two families have inflicted on each other for years.

Movie Review – Entertainment

Entertainment (2015, dir. Rick Alverson)

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Entertainment is an anti-film. It is the opposite of life affirming, life refuting. It is a road trip to nowhere, about a man who fails to find himself and instead lost forever. Entertainment is purgatory. This is the intent of director Rick Alverson, who helmed the abrasive 2012 independent film The Comedy. In the same way that Tim & Eric deconstruct comedy, Alverson is breaking down the aimless dreamer in search of their dream.

The focus of Entertainment is an unnamed Comedian (played by Gregg Turkington). While the protagonist may be nameless, fans familiar with Turkington’s stage persona of Neil Hamburger will know that this is a fictionalized version of the performer. The Hamburger persona is an assault on the audience of his comedy shows. His material is exaggeratedly homophobic, misogynistic, grossly sexual, and crude. The concept behind this is a comedian who thinks so little of his audience he believes this is the best they deserve. Contrasted with this is Turkington endlessly waiting between shows. He goes on local tours of industry in the Southwestern United States: an airplane graveyard, an oil field, a ghost town built as part of a mineral boom. The landscapes he walks through are husks.

The Comedian himself is a husk. He’s in his forties, performing at low-end dive bars or worse. The first location we see him at is a prison. His last location is at the birthday party of a spoiled rich, aggressive man (played by Tim Heidecker). That final performance concludes with The Comedian bursting out of a cake and bursting into tears. He ends up spending time with a financially successful cousin (John C. Reilly) who tries to advise him on his comedy act, continually saying it’s great but then talking about making it appeal to “all four quadrants.” As we get to know the cousin we see his misery come to the surface as well.

Two constants refrain throughout the film. The first is Eddie the Opener (Tye Sheridan) a clown/mime who opens The Comedian’s sets. Eddie hasn’t been worn down by the road yet. He shares the cynicism of The Comedian towards the audience but takes joy in the performance. The other refrain is The Comedian’s nightly voicemails to an unseen estranged daughter. He expresses frustration eventually at his inability to get a hold of her, the messages growing more and more desperate.

Both Turkington and Alverson have a keen interest in discomfort and provocation. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Alverson explains his personal view on “positive” cinema:

There’s a common insistence that representations of the positive lift us up and buoy us. I’ve never experienced that. At least not in a prolonged way. The idea of resolution has always seemed weird to me. I think if a movie has any naturalistic pretensions or elements in it at all, it needs to respect and represent the disjointed and difficult nature of the world. You can’t solely promote a fantasy version of the formal experience of living. There’s a necessity for a kind of balance in the field—90 percent of the fare for American audiences operates by those conventions and leaves the viewer satisfied in a very tidy, efficient way. They are unaltered in a way that is so disconnected with our daily experiences. Both The Comedy and Entertainment are in a long tradition of cinema flirting and pushing back against that impulse.

Entertainment is not a film that will appeal to everyone. Because some moviegoers have that expectation of films making them feel good, they are going to react angrily at movies like this. I suspect Alverson would welcome that reaction. The majority of movie studio fare is emotionless, just a series of dramatic formula plot points, but never anything that evokes honest emotion. It’s important that we have films like Entertainment and The Comedy because they remind us that the emotions that rise out of dissonance are some of the most real movies can make us feel.

Movie Review – Spring

Spring (2014, dir. Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson)

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I began the filming expecting one thing but ended up delighted and surprised with what I got. Evan’s mother dies in front of him, succumbing to a two-year battle with cancer. He feels lost and without purpose, so this leads to a spontaneous trip to Italy, the place his parents wanted to take him before they died. Evan wanders to a small town on the coast where he meets Louise, a young student. The two click right away but there is something mysterious about her, for all her charm and wit she remains cagey about certain parts of her life.

I remember seeing the trailer for Spring before its release and got the sense it would be a dark, horror film. However, it ends up becoming a romance story without any traces of cynicism. It is a dark film, but there is an emotional truth underneath the surface. Early in the first act, after Evan first arrives in Italy there is a sense of Eli Roth’s horrid Hostel films, that creeping sense of dread. We worry Evan is winding his way down into a trap. The filmmakers establish a very gloomy mood. However, I find the film has more in common with Linklater’s Before Sunset. It ends up being lots of conversations about relationships and the nature of love between Evan and Louise. Yes, there is gore and violence, but it never overtakes the film and become the focus. Instead, character work is the meat, with violence punctuating dramatic moments.

Spring is a gorgeous looking film. Directors Moorhead and Benson previously worked on Resolution, a small indie horror flick that did similar genre play. It’s very clear they have developed their technique with some truly beautiful and well-choreographed shots. There is an explosive argument in the streets of the small village after Evan discovers Louise’s secret. It is a single take, but it is a dizzying race through the back alleys and narrow streets. They also make use of drones to produce some stunning, sweeping shots of the coastal town that stand up to an expensive crane and helicopter shots.

The bulk of the film rests on the shoulders of the two lead actors, Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker. I have never been overly impressed by Pucci. I’d seen him in his early work (Thumbsucker, The Chumscrubber, Southland Tales) and felt he was fairly flat and have noticed him popping up from time to time. Here he reaches depths in his character I wasn’t expecting. Hilker was a discovery for me and is a perfect match for Pucci. You get caught up in the chemistry these two genuinely have. That chemistry, more than the horror elements, is what makes the film. While Spring is a definite play on genres, it teaches a valuable lesson that horror is stronger when it relies on the more human and character-focused elements of storytelling.

Spring is a film that benefits from mystery. I would highly encourage you to read as little about it as possible and just know that it’s a movie that is body horror, but also something more. It’s a film about a young man working past grief and aimlessness and the risk of love. Its whole concept is a metaphor about what we give up when we allow ourselves to fall in love, and weighing if that is worth the risk.