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20
Feb

The Book Thief


Book Thief, The (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) were promised two children so they can receive two allowances, but only one makes it through the trip. The girl’s name is Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) and her younger brother is buried en route near the railroad tracks. Their mother is a communist so in order for them to have a chance of living in Nazi Germany, they had to be given up for adoption. Due to unmet expectations regarding pecuniary matters, Rosa does not quickly warm up to her new daughter.

Based on the novel by Markus Zusack, “The Book Thief” is quite large in scope—the story beginning just before World War II and ending when the lead character has passed due to old age—and it does not have enough time to focus on every character or subplot that matters. However, it is an emotionally engaging film for the most part because it is willing to show the horrors of war from time to time even if its target audience is a younger crowd.

The picture does not make a good first impression. Although beautifully shot from the opening scene, it is a challenge to appreciate how certain characters are drawn. A simplistic approach comes across as one-dimensional at times. More specifically, Hans being the nice, supportive figure and Rosa acting like a witch with just about every opportunity she gets. While Watson is effective in the role, the evil adoptive mother subplot, which lasts for about half the film, runs out of steam within the first half hour. However, the screenplay by Michael Petroni proves able to move beyond the mean substitute mother storyline in an elegant fashion as the horrors of Hitler’s reign move front and center.

Many might argue that the most heartwarming relationship in the film is shared between Liesel and Hans, especially with the latter’s attempt to make the girl’s transition easier. But I was most interested in Liesel’s friendship with her next door neighbor named Rudy (Nico Liersch), a boy with whom the narrator, Death (wonderfully voiced by Roger Allam), refers to as having lemon-colored hair. Liesel and Rudy’s scenes are sweet, amusing, at times funny, and it is easy to root for them to make it through dark times. It is most disappointing that Rudy disappears for a good chunk of time somewhere in the middle.

Another important connection that Liesel makes in the Hubermann household is with a Jewish man named Max (Ben Schnetzer). However, the script does not delve deeply enough into why this relationship is special. We are given repetitive scenes of Liesel reading to Max when he is not well and a few acknowledgments with regards to both of them being targets of the Nazis. Although the scenes where Liesel helps to take care of Max appear touching, I did not buy into it completely. For a smart young person like Liesel, I did not believe that they are not able to have more meaningful conversations about the war and mortality.

I wished, however, that the picture had managed to show more evil actions done by the Germans—not the Nazi soldiers in uniforms and carrying guns but of fellow neighbors who genuinely believe the war’s causes. Some of them probably feel they must support the war. After all, their sons and husbands are participating in it. It would have added a layer of truth or complexity and the dramatic tension might have been more palpable.

Despite its shortcomings, “The Book Thief,” directed by Brian Percival, is worth watching for all-around good performances, beautiful interior shots of small homes and palatial manors serving as contrast against monstrosities happening outside one’s walls, and the score by John Williams. The combinations of these will almost surely tug at the heartstrings.

19
Feb

After the Dark


After the Dark (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Twenty-one select students, all high achievers, attend school in Jakarta to study philosophy led by Mr. Zimit (James D’Arcy). It is the final session until everyone must return to their respective countries and so Mr. Zimit poses a thought experiment: a nuclear holocaust has occurred on a global level and there is a bunker nearby. However, the bunker can accommodate only ten people for a year. If more than ten were to live in the bunker, everyone would be sure to die of hypoxia. The students must decide which ten must live in order to repopulate the planet and reestablish civilization.

“After the Dark,” written and directed by John Huddles, has a whole lot of characters but fails to pose enough thought-provoking or challenging questions. I took only one philosophy course as an undergraduate student in biological sciences and even that class—though focusing mainly on elementary concepts, ideas, important figures of the discipline, and how to ask or phrase questions—is more entertaining than having to sit through a hundred minutes of what comes off as an expensive rehearsal.

One of the main problems is the screenplay coming alive too late in the game. The first three-quarters is so self-serious and self-important at times that it does not give enough room to welcome those who may not be interested in philosophy. This is why Chips (Daryl Sabara), a supporting character, earns the title for being the most memorable of the bunch. There is only one sequence that features a character really having fun with what is being discussed or tackled. The less is said about it, the better. I found it to be imaginative, full of energy, and very amusing. Why doesn’t the rest of the picture function on that level?

A sort of romance lies in the center. I guess James (Rhys Wakefield) and Petra (Sophie Lowe) are supposed to be interesting as a couple since each attempt at solving the thought experiment involves the two of them wanting to be together. While Wakefield and Lowe do look good physically as a couple, their characters—when apart—are quite blank. Mr. Zimit considers James to be unworthy of his seat in the classroom while he considers Petra as his brightest student. And yet I was neither convinced that James was less smart compared to the rest of the class nor Petra the most intelligent.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the film never bothers to show the students being really engaged in intense debates with regards to who should make it in the bunker. Scenes where they are supposed to be showing how they reason are edited so quickly that we never get a chance to take the time and appreciate the complexities or implications of their arguments. Thus, the students often come off immature and emotional. Why are some of them (Bonnie Wright) taking the thought experiment so personally as if the whole thing weren’t hypothetical?

The visual effects with respect to the nuclear holocaust look cheap. I would rather have not seen atomic bombs exploding or fire devouring the land. Why not adopt a simpler and more elegant approach: letting the audience imagine a nuclear apocalypse instead of having to spell everything out as if we had not seen nuclear destruction in other movies prior. Therefore, not only do ideas come across shallow but so do the images. The writer-director’s execution is so poor that the film cripples the brain and shuts the eyelids.

17
Feb

After


After (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

There is a secret in “After,” written by Sabrina Gennarino and directed by Pieter Gaspersz, that is not at all worth the trouble keeping, thus preventing the picture from reaching its true potential as a melodrama. To gain momentum, it should have been revealed some time in the middle or it ought to not have been a secret to us at all. Instead, the final few scenes come off trying too hard to surprise rather than being quiet and genuinely absorbing.

The Valentino family is a dysfunctional bunch and the material makes the case that part of the reason why they are severely unhappy is because they are unable to deal with the past. Mitch (John Doman), the patriarch, is highly protective of his fragile wife, Nora (Kathleen Quinlan), and so he goes to great lengths to distract her from reality. In a telling scene, Nora loses it after she accidentally tramples over a flower while gardening.

Their grown children—Chris (Pablo Schreiber), Max (Sabrina Gennarino), and Nick (Adam Scarimbolo)—follow suit in grooming the mirage because they, in a way, are afraid of their father and constantly, one way or another, needing his approval. Perhaps most interesting is Max who, when asked by her boyfriend (Darrin Dewitt Henson) to get married, claims she needs time to think about it not because she does not want to accept but because having him as a family member means a higher risk of exposing the secret.

The film is shot without glitz or glamour which works to its advantage. Although the script tends to lean on over exaggeration to get its point across, the problems between Mitch and his children, especially the sons, feel real at times. I was interested in what would happen next even though the situations are terrains are commonly traversed.

Casting unfamiliar faces works, too. Some of them are quite green which I liked because I found it difficult to read how they would allow their characters to react given an expected situation. If household names were cast, it might have been a frustrating experience because it might have been easier to predict the performers’ choices. Here, although some of the acting is wooden, a level of mystery remains.

“After” is likely to not impress many, but a skeletal track is laid out here to make an effective drama. The pieces do not quite fit as neatly as they should because there is a lack of complex characterization and transitions, especially the father (whom I saw as the central figure instead of the mother) in terms of how we view him. Toward the end, we get a feel for his softer side but it is almost out of the blue.

16
Feb

The Nice Guys


Nice Guys, The (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Action-comedy “The Nice Guys,” co-written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi, is inspired by classic 1970s detective pictures but one that fails to provide inspiration. What results is a moderately watchable but occasionally predictable film spearheaded by charismatic co-stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling who have good fun in their roles.

At first it appears as though the plot revolves around a dead pornographic actress named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), whose vehicle crashed into and through a house during the first scene, but those with extensive experience with detective films, especially the great noir works of the 1940s, are likely to recognize that is merely a misdirect. This is a common problem that plagues the picture: familiar elements are exactly as they are and so there is rarely, if ever, anything surprising. One of the main targets of the material is audiences who enjoy detective stories. It fails to satiate because it offers nothing new.

Crowe and Gosling do share some chemistry, but Healy and March are written as one-note. Although they are never boring because the experienced thespians are able to tap into different notes of an otherwise standard dialogue, it would have been electric if the script were as smart or as colorful as those portraying the detectives. Gosling plays the more volatile of the pair and is able to deliver a few laughs, but Crowe is equally strong as the straight man.

There are three action sequences and they are evenly dispersed throughout the film’s near two-hour running time. I enjoyed and appreciated that each one offers a distinct feel, energy, and pace. They are executed with vision and we feel the joy of those involved. Perhaps these are the best scenes in the movie, hands down the most thrilling. What it is missing, however, is a truly memorable and/or sinister villain. Matt Bomer plays one of the formidable assassins but the character is not written deeply enough to be compelling.

A breakout star of the film is Angourie Rice who plays Gosling’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter. Rice is a name and face to watch out for because she commands the charm, wit, and presence of Reese Witherspoon from Robert Mulligan’s “The Man in the Moon.” Just about every time Rice is on screen, she lights it up. She makes slower scenes come alive. A lesser performer might have turned the character into someone annoying but she grounds Holly in such a way that the audience would want to be her friend.

Directed by Shane Black, “The Nice Guys” offers a decent time but not a good time. If the script had been tweaked a little more in order to provide more surprising details regarding the underbelly of politics, world of pornography, and the sleuthing business, it might have turned into an example to be imitated in the future rather than simply resting on being a goofy imitation.

15
Feb

Central Intelligence


Central Intelligence (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although a silly and an inconsequential buddy action-comedy, “Central Intelligence” delivers big laughs and expected, sometimes surprising, level of entertainment because of the energy put forth by the effortlessly charismatic Dwayne Johnson and fast-talking funnyman Kevin Hart. Casting two actors who look very different physically is a common strategy in buddy comedies, but it works because the duo here are able to find a magnetic rhythm despite their different approaches on how bring out laughter from the audience.

The picture starts strong but the weakness is its plot involving bank account transactions. In a comedy like this, dragging out the conflict is a mistake because it takes away precious time from what it showcases best: the quick banters between Bob Stone (Johnson) and Calvin Joyner (Hart), a CIA agent suspected by the government of someone who had gone rogue and an accountant who feels disappointed with how his life has turned out, respectively. The picture runs close to two hours; it might have been stronger if it were closer to ninety minutes because there are a handful of slow moments between the action where not much happens.

It offers a surprising amount of heart. Bob was a fat high school student and was consistently bullied for it while Calvin was deemed to be someone who would do great things given that he was very smart, athletic, and personable. Scenes that stand out between the running and flying bullets involve Bob, well-built and strong as an adult, having moments where he still sees himself as the fat kid in school and Calvin admitting to himself, and his wife (Danielle Nicolet), that he could have been so much more. Many viewers are likely to find themselves able to relate, not to these characters specifically but to the overall thoughts and feelings of sometimes not being good enough because the past has made a considerable stamp in one’s identity—and it cannot be undone.

The gun battles and hand-to-hand combat are nothing special, but they are entertaining and amusing because it is apparent that everyone is having fun. We encounter ad-libbed moments from time to time; while the jokes do not always land, they are delivered with verve and conviction that I found myself chuckling anyway. And when they do land hard and right on target, they are funny, clever, and never repeated exactly again. Credit to the screenwriters—Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, and Rawson Marshall Thurber—for striving to give the audience more than just scraps. Numerous comedies within the sub-genre tend to bring up the same jokes without any kind of twist or not coming from a different perspective and so they inevitably suffer from diminishing returns.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, “Central Intelligence” balances comedy and action in such a way that potentially trite and hackneyed material is turned into a highly watchable romp. Hart and Johnson share strong chemistry. We believe their characters can be friends not because they share similar interests—in fact, one of the running gags is that they are so different, one of them is actually into unicorns and fannypacks—but because they are good guys as teenagers and they are still good guys twenty years later.

12
Feb

Manchester by the Sea


Manchester by the Sea (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Broken down to its most basic element, “Manchester by the Sea,” written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is about a man (Casey Affleck) who has not found a way to move on from a devastating family tragedy but somehow everyone else has. Lee’s every day existence is some form of self-punishment. There is no laughter in his home. He chooses not to make meaningful connections with anybody. Even as he walks around, it appears as though he is carrying the weight of the world. Here is a man who does not wish to continue living and yet he does, at least on the surface, until he is forced to face another tragedy: his brother (Kyle Chandler), not even fifty years of age, has passed away due to a rare heart condition.

For an observant picture in which characters grapple with the consequences of sudden deaths, it is refreshing that it is filled with humor, for better or worse. I admired that the material does not succumb completely to melodrama; notice that just about every other scene we encounter offers humor, whether it be due to the irony of a situation or a simple line uttered, the manner in which it is expressed. Although the subject matter is heavy, the writer-director is smart in choosing to allow his material to breathe. I found this true to life. When there is a death in the family—at least in my family—laughter and humor do not disappear from our lives. Life goes on, even the very next day, and laughter, in a way, revs up our engines so that everybody can move forward together.

Because life is particularly difficult to capture on screen, its approach of balancing humor amidst a death loses power at times. Particularly problematic are scenes involving Lee’s sixteen-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and his attempts to make it all the way with a band member. They pretend to do homework upstairs, in the bedroom, doors shut, while everybody knows, including the adults, what exactly it is they are doing. I found this situational humor, and others like it, too sitcom-like, contrived, straight off films with far less emotional power. And for a movie with a running time of around one hundred thirty minutes, trimming some of the fat might have made a leaner, stronger final product.

An alternative would have been to replace such scenes with more meaningful interactions between Lee and Patrick, their relationship so alive, engaging, and true. While they do argue a whole lot, Affleck and Hedges share strong, convincing chemistry. We believe they really are family—but one that isn’t necessarily close, rather forced into a situation where they must find a way to work together until details about guardianship, habitation, what to do with the boat, are ironed out.

The flashbacks, serving as contrast, between Lee and young Patrick are utilized well. These also give us glimpses of the late brother’s personality and how he is like in the face of tragedy. And so when people around town tell Lee how sorry they are for his loss and how his brother was a such a good guy, very warm and personable, we know exactly what they mean. We are reminded of the light that had gone out.

Another notable performance comes from Michelle Williams who plays Lee’s ex-wife. Her character is crucial to the picture because it shows that although people have found a way to move on from a tragedy, it does not mean they’ve forgotten or they’ve walked away unscathed. For Lee, this concept doesn’t quite click. And so he continues to live a life of solitude. We root for him to move on somehow, but we realize halfway through that maybe he isn’t capable. At least not yet—not within the scope of the film. I found myself thinking about Lee and where his life might be heading well after the move was over.

9
Feb

La La Land


La La Land (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

“How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?” asks a former classmate (John Legend) who has since found commercial success in the music business to Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who dreams of owning his own bar one day. Although “La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle, is neither a revolutionary nor a traditional musical, it offers a highly watchable escapist romp and delivers a few welcome surprises especially in terms of what it wishes to say about reaching one’s career goals.

The film emits exuberance and the love for song and dance right from its opening sequence. A smile was drawn on my face because it dares to show a real Los Angeles—not simply when it comes to the level of traffic, the noise, and the heat that settles on motor vehicles but also in terms of the level of diversity we see on screen.

Mainstream pictures tend to show a version of Los Angeles that it still too bland and whitewashed in this day and age so it is most refreshing that a reality of various skin colors, body types, and hair textures are captured from the get-go despite the genre being a musical with fantastic elements. This first scene, clearly influenced by a memorable scene in the classic musical “Fame,” makes quite a powerful statement and it is something that I expect from an independent feature film, not a mainstream work with well-known stars—a most welcome surprise.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling share effortless chemistry, the former playing a barista on the lot of a movie studio. Mia, like thousands of men and women in LA, dreams of becoming a movie or television performer. Stone and Gosling have a certain rapport that is endearing—even the moments between dialogue command a certain tactile bond that works beautifully in both comedic and dramatic scenes. The two may not have the strongest voices to carry a musical but this should not be counted against them because they should be actors first and singers second.

Despite the actors’ excellent chemistry, the middle section is most problematic. Notice that when life-changing events are not front and center, the pacing slows dramatically to the point of plateau. The material is divided into five sections: winter, spring, summer, fall, and winter once again. Spring and summer is the blossoming of Mia and Sebastian’s romantic relationship which should be just as powerful—if not more—than the major life events that attempt to derail them from the paths they have set for themselves especially because these potential changes challenge them as a pair.

For instance, a most uninspiring scene, egregious in content and execution, involves Mia talking about her past, her hopes, and her dreams to a man she is beginning to like on a romantic level. What should have been a defining moment is shot instead like a throwaway scene—camera from a distance, two people walking in a shot together, not one closeup is employed. Not to mention Mia’s story is so ordinary, she might as well not have said anything because smart audiences have already made assumptions—correct ones at that—about her past and where she hopes to go. I grew bored of the character’s lack of interest in her own life and the lack of energy in making someone else be interested in her life. My sentiment lasted till the next season. Chazelle ought to have rewritten the scene.

“La La Land” is at its most compelling when it hones in on the sacrifices one must make in order to reach one’s dream—or at times settling for a version of one’s dream. It asks us to consider the following: if we choose to sacrifice bits of who we are in order to get a little closer to our goals, by the time we reach these goals, can it still be considered as a success when our core values have been inevitably changed by such sacrifices? Not a philosophical film by any means, the ideas are there if one chooses to ponder. And for those who would rather not think too deeply, there is colorful and toe-tapping entertainment to be enjoyed.

7
Feb

Das letzte Schweigen


Letzte Schweigen, Das (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Two men, Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring) and Peer (Ulrich Thomsen), in a red Audi make their way along a wooded highway when the driver takes notice of an eleven-year-old girl riding a bicycle. The car follows the girl and stops when she takes notice. Peer exits the vehicle, grabs the girl, and rapes her. He planned on letting her go but since she continues to struggle afterwards, he hits her across the face a little too hard and she is dead.

Twenty-three years later, a person commits a similar crime. In the very same field, the police find a bike, a bloody rock, and hair. David (Sebastian Blomberg) is one of the cops in charge of the investigation, but Krischan (Burghart Klaußner) feels he must be a part of it given that he was the detective who failed to solve the 1980’s case.

Challenging in content, confident in execution, and offering no easy answers, “Das letzte Schweigen,” based on a novel by Jan Costin Wagner, is a thriller with a lot of sadness which stems from various individuals who are touched by the crimes. What makes it particularly interesting is not only do we get a chance to see how the cops execute their jobs and how the victims’ families respond, we are asked to accept that the perpetrators have real thoughts and feelings toward the things they have done—and are wanting to do.

The picture juggles about a dozen characters with seeming ease. The two cops, David and Krischan, are in the middle of it all, but the rest are given appropriate depth despite some of them not having much time to grace the screen. Elena (Katrin Saß), the mother of the girl who was murdered in the first scene, is particularly memorable. Saß plays her with an intense anger and grief bubbling just below the surface.

What I will remember most is this: after she hears the news that a girl has been abducted, this time a thirteen-year-old, I looked at her face and sensed that she felt glad about the fact—even for just a microsecond. Now that a very similar crime is occurring, someone else knows how she felt more than two decades ago and so she feels less alone in her bereavement. In addition, maybe she thinks that this is a second chance for her to obtain closure. After all, the police did not find her daughter’s killer.

The manner in which the film jumps from scene to scene and character to character has a smooth and engaging flow. Only about once or twice, mostly toward the end, did I notice some of the more predictable techniques employed in order to build an element of shock or surprise. When director Baran bo Odar keeps away from what is expected, like presenting parallel scenes between the past and present, we experience the material through an original perspective.

Perhaps the most disturbing scenes involve Peer and Timo just sitting on a bench and watching children running, playing, and laughing. When they observe the kids like vultures, sometimes the images are in slow motion. Is that how it is like to be inside the mind of child molesters and murderers? And just when many of us may believe we have seen the worst, we are shown what they like to do indoors when the blinds are shut.

6
Feb

Ritual


Ritual (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Here is a piece of work with potential to become a situational cult horror picture despite a distractingly forced dialogue that almost sounds like a soap opera. However, for a story involving a mysterious cult in rural Texas, it fails to delve into the requisite creepy details designed to address our curiosities and answer our questions. Instead, it employs standard techniques that plague recent, inferior horror films such as a wounded character walking about simply waiting to get picked off, shaky camerawork and grainy night vision, a whole lot of screaming and yelling. The final third might have benefited from a complete rewrite.

In the middle of the night, a distressed woman (Lisa Marie Summerscales) calls her husband, Tom (Dean Cates), after she kills a man (Derek Phillips) in a motel. Although there is an apparent rift in their marriage and Lovely is adamant in refusing to say over the phone what exactly had happened, Tom takes on the long drive to see what is going on and, if possible, try to help. Neither of them knows that the man who had been stabbed in the torso several times is a member of a cult—and his fellow members are heading to the seedy motel.

The picture strives to establish a distinct style clearly influenced by David Lynch and, to some degree, the early Coen brothers. The south being the setting is no accident. The action takes place mostly in one room and a parking lot but great tension is established exactly because, as viewers watching an increasingly desperate situation unfold, we know that the sooner they remove themselves from these two places, the better their chances of survival. As expected, Tom and Lovely’s marital problems are brought to surface almost immediately and this clouds their judgment—the very element they need to be crystal clear if they were to successfully extricate themselves out of their predicament.

Another technique is its utilization of a flashback a few minutes after a cut scene. For example, Tom opens the trunk of the stabbed man’s car and, for a split-second, the camera hints at the character making an important discovery. The screen fades to black and the action returns to Lovely in the motel room, looking in the mirror, traumatized, very likely regretting the decisions she’d taken during the night.

Then Tom returns to the room. A flashback is triggered to show us what he’d seen in the trunk. This technique works for the most part because it breaks a highly intense scene, forces us to digest an eerie calm while the material has our undivided attention, and then back to that curious thing. It keeps us slightly off-balance as more tension builds in the background. Writer-director Mickey Keating is clearly influenced by the great filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

Although the eventual appearance of the cultists are initially horrifying, they are not given enough interesting courses of action to take to prove that they are top-tier villains. They wear skull masks, appear in groups, and walk real slowly. We see the cultists’ faces. However, the screenplay appears stuck in delivering standard third-act horror film tropes rather than continuing to engage the audience by beginning to answer our burning questions.

5
Feb

Twixt


Twixt (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), author of a novel about witchcraft, makes a stop for a book signing in a small town called Swann Valley, famous for its clock tower and a mass murder. Though he is ready to sell and sign some books, it seems like no one has heard of him, let alone having read his work, until Sheriff LaGrange (Bruce Dern) approaches his table and asks for an autograph. As a fan of a good mystery, the cop invites the writer to the morgue and shows him a corpse with a massive wooden stake through it. There is talk about evil and vampires amongst the residents.

Despite an interesting premise, one that could work as a campy, fun, B-movie shenanigan, “Twixt,” written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, insists on being so serious about the horror-mystery that it bores the living daylights out of the mind. At best, it is like a TV movie adapted from a Stephen King novel only the good stuff are drained out of it. It is all beautiful visuals and moody glowering but not enough pull to get us to invest.

Kilmer is not a bad choice at all to play a writer whose career is on a nosedive. He plays Hall almost in an off-kilter way, retaining a sense of humor even if the character’s alcoholism consistently gets in the way of his work. The way he interacts with people around town has a whiff of detachment—like he is not a hundred percent present. We wonder if he is fit to be doing any kind of investigation to solve a mass murder.

There is a sadness to the protagonist as well but the screenplay fails to drill deeply into its core. An accident is mentioned twice or thrice and his relationship with his wife is about to reach a boiling point. There is not enough exploration of his home life—problems that he cannot fix on a whim—to make us believe that he feels he must solve the mystery in Swann Valley in order to gain a certain of level of control in his personal life. Instead, his main motivation becomes about writing a book involving the murders which, looking at the big picture, does not solve his feelings of inadequacy as a man who is losing his family.

Several dream sequences comprise of about a third of the picture. There, Hall meets a famous writer (Ben Chaplin) and a girl with bucked teeth named V (Elle Fanning). While nice to look at because colors like red and yellow are allowed to pop out and all other colors are dulled, the visuals do not add much to the table. You would want to look at it for about two minutes to admire the aesthetics, but once the novelty wears off, it fails to pull us in consistently. Dreams are often symbolic but everything here is literal which takes away some of the necessary intrigue.

“Twixt” does not have a third act. It just ends. Instead, we are given a title card that informs us what happens to the characters. As a veteran filmmaker, Coppola should know better than to submit unfinished work. He has cheated his audience of their time and that is a crime that he should be forced to revisit in his dreams.

3
Feb

Jug Face


Jug Face (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

It has been some time since the community that resides in the woods has made a sacrifice to the entity in the pit. The process has been the same for years: Dawai (Sean Bridgers) gets possessed, makes a jug out of clay, and whomever’s face is represented on the jug is to have their throat slashed on top of the pit while everyone in the community looks on. Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) finds a jug with her face on it. Not wanting to die, she hides the item, and hopes that nobody will know about her transgression. On top of her constant fear that the entity will take its anger out to her community, she discovers that she is with child.

Written and directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle, “Jug Face” works best when the paranormal remains a dormant cancer in the back of the minds of Ada’s friends and family and the forefront simply shows the terrible actions individuals are willing to do to satiate their god. If it had focused on regular people making monstrous decisions instead of showing too much via limited and unconvincing visual effects as well as camera trickery that distracts more than creating a convincing horrifying experience, it would likely have been a superior film.

We get a real sense that the people we are watching really do live in the woods. From their plain clothes, unhygienic appearance, down to the posturing when listening to someone speak, I felt like I was looking into their own world, not just actors trying to convey or deliver whatever is written on the script. Because the picture has a solid grasp on its setting, it is that much more convincing to buy into the characters’ way of life. It makes M. Night Shyamalan’s undervalued “The Village” look extremely polished. In order words, the writer-director has found a way to make the limited budget work for the story.

But then Shunned Boy (Alex Maizus) makes an appearance some time in the middle when increasingly tense and curious events begin to unfold. He is supposed to look like the dead or something of that sort but I found the character to function too much as a device rather than a part of a natural progression of the story.

We learn only one bit of information about him and it is not even that important. Why is he called the Shunned Boy? Is he at all connected to that entity in the pit? Why is he the only supernatural being that appears to Ada? What is his connection to the main character and to the community? These questions needed to be addressed. In addition, the makeup and visual effects end up making him look laughable rather than threatening.

The pregnancy subplot is handled in a surprising way. Instead of the screenplay going for a social commentary about women’s rights with respect to the microcosm of interest, it focuses more on Ada’s fear of having her two secrets exposed. Carter proves capable of communicating strength without letting go of the idea that her character knows very little about the world other than her own. We want to see Ada live and perhaps even permanently escape the lifestyle that she has grown accustomed to.

There is an intelligence and a willingness to take risks that I admired in “Jug Face.” Though it is not impressive work by any means, it is convincing enough that I feel the writer-director can only grow from here.