“Get Out”

The catalyst for the clever, suspenseful, and unsettling film “Get Out,” begins with an ordinary situation that doesn’t take long to escalate into something ominous. The camera focuses in on a man who is talking on his cell phone about being lost in a suburban neighborhood, where the names of the streets all have a similar sound to them. While on his cell, a car passes him, but immediately turns around and begins to follow him from a distance. There is no one else driving or walking on the quiet street, so he begins to get suspicious. Turning around, the man observes that the car has stopped, and the front door is open. Before he has time for much of a reaction, he is abducted; leaving a viewer to wonder – Why? It is a question, the answer to which will not be learned until much later in the film.

The next scene transitions to the introduction to the film’s main protagonist, Chris Washington, a professional photographer, who is effectively portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario). Chris is scanning through photos he has taken, before he begins to shave, while waiting for the arrival of his girlfriend, Rose Armitage, very well played, in a nuanced manner by Allison Williams (Girls), in her first feature film. She is out buying donuts and pastries for a weekend trip she and Chris will soon be leaving on. The couple have been dating for approximately five months, but the excursion out of the city, and into the country, is not a romantic getaway. In fact, already feeling apprehensive about going, Chris becomes more so, when he learns that Rose has not told her parents, who he will be meeting for the first time, that he is an African-American. Statements from Rose, such as that her parents aren’t the least bit racist, and that her father would have gladly cast his vote to keep President Obama in charge for a third term, help just a little toward quelling Chris’s anxiety. Conversely, thanks to both apathy and tragedy, Rose will never have to be on her best behavior when meeting Chris’s parents. He had an absentee father, and when he was eleven, his mother died from injuries she sustained during a hit and run. Against the advice of his best friend, TSA agent, Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery), whose character provides comic relief throughout the film’s 104 minute runtime, Chris decides to throw caution to the wind, and takes the trip with Rose.

When the couple arrives at the Armitage house, there is nothing outwardly sinister or untoward taking place. A short time after they get there, however, a viewer should get the sense that, leaving aside surface pleasantries, there is something disconcerting about the Armitage family. Rose’s father, Dean, a role acted by two time Emmy winner Bradley Whitford, is a neurosurgeon. Her mother, Missy, played by two time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener (Capote), is a hypnotherapist who is keenly interested in getting a chance to put Chris under hypnosis, in order to help him beat his addiction to nicotine; something which Chris is not interested in doing. Furthermore, Chris gets the sense that there is something not quite right with two African American staff members at the Armitage home. Their dispositions, mannerisms, and the way the groundskeeper, Walter (Marcus Henderson), and the housekeeper, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), converse, comes across as a bit unnatural. Chris, realizing that perhaps it is own preconceptions of what he was expecting before his arrival at Rose’s parents house, attempts to dismiss the behavior of the two staff members with plausible excuses. Additionally, the strange behavior by Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who says inappropriate things, and at one point during dinner attempts to put Chris in a headlock, after a discussion about Jujutsu, at least at first, defies explanation, other than that he is a jerk.

Chris and Rose’s visit to her parent’s home is poorly timed. Their arrival that weekend coincides with the Armitage’s annual party. Rose, who is seemingly dumbfounded by the news, is reminded by her parents that the party takes place on the same day every year. If Chris didn’t already feel out of place, the steady arrival of mostly white, senior-citizens, with the exception of one older Asian gentlemen, does nothing to help reduce the tension he feels. The guests at the party have no qualms about making comments about how they feel, that since Chris was born an African American man, that he is by nature genetically superior. Amongst other comments made with a complete lack of tact: a woman places her hands on Chris to get a sense of his muscle definition; and the Asian man goes as far as to ask Chris, in front of a group of people, if there are more advantages or disadvantages to being an African American in this world? The only friendly face, or one that Chris perceives to be a friendly face, is that of another black man, Andrew Logan King played by Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12). When Chris approaches him, however, he too, acts like Walter and Georgina.  He is there in a physical sense, and can reply when spoken to; but coupled with the fact that he is at the party with his date, an unattractive Caucasian woman nearly twice his age, something seems terribly wrong to Chris, not to mention the fact that Chris feels he has met Andrew before, however, he can’t remember where.

After the party guests have had an opportunity to meet and talk with Chris, a silent auction takes place. The winner of the auction, as you might have guessed wins, none other than Chris, but for what purpose? Are the members of the party descendants of slave owners, who wants to keep the vile practice going in modern day America? Is there a sexual component to their wickedness? Will Chris’s body be auctioned off to the highest bidder, so that person can engage in whatever depraved proclivities their mind can think up? Are they assembled organ harvesters, who are looking for prime, young body parts to sell on the black market? Will Chris learn in time what is happening, and be able to get away? Will Allison help Chris escape, or is she complicit in the reprehensible situation taking place? For those of you who haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to ruin the twists and turns that transpire in the third act of the film. Nor, for that matter, did I want to write about a key scene involving Chris and Rose’s mother, Missy, because I felt that could also possibly diminish you deriving the maximum amount of thrills from the movie as it progresses toward its conclusion.

“Get Out” is the feature film directorial debut for Emmy winner, Jordan Peele (Key and Peele). In addition, Peele wrote the screen play for the movie which is parts horror and mystery. The film premiered on January 23, 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival, and has been the recipient of laudable critical praise and box office success. Made for an estimated budget of $5,000,000 dollars, the film’s opening weekend take was close to $34,000,000, and, as of the writing of this post, the film has since gone on to surpass the $130,000,000 box-office mark. A well rounded cast, timely jump scares, spot on cinematography by Toby Oliver (Miracles), which captures the underlying dread permeating the seemingly calm environment during the first half of the movie, and an effective score composed by Michael Abels, helps to make Peele’s first foray into directing a successful one. I’m interested in seeing what he will come up with next.

 

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“iBoy”

The Netflix original film “iboy” takes its source material from English writer Kevin Brook’s young-adult novel of the same name. Tom (Bill Milner) is a slightly awkward, high school teenager, who lives in modern day London with his grandmother, Nan, portrayed by BAFTA winner, Miranda Richardson (Damage). The catalyst for the film is Tom’s visit with his friend and love interest, Lucy, who is played by Emmy nominee, Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones). When he arrives at her apartment, he observes that her front door is open. When he walks inside he sees that her older brother is laying unconscious on the floor. If that weren’t enough of a jolt to his senses, Tom hears noises coming from Lucy’s bedroom; unbeknownst to him, she is being raped, as an act of revenge by a local gang, that is punishing her, for her brother’s refusal to join them. As Tom begins to head in the direction of Lucy’s room, two gun toting, hooded figures, wearing bandanas to disguise their faces step out of the room. They are not alone. Tom flees the scene, and while attempting to call the police, he is shot.

Approximately ten days after the shooting, Tom wakes up in the hospital. The incident results in him having a pronounced scar. Furthermore, pieces of his smartphone, that he was holding next to his ear, when he was shot, have become embedded in his brain. Dr. Bale (Christopher Colquhoun) informs Tom, that he feels it would be too dangerous to Tom’s life if he attempted to operate in order to remove the phone fragments. It doesn’t take Tom long to realize, that life, as he knows it, has changed beyond just his scar and medical issues. As a result of his shooting, Tom has acquired special abilities. Minus the violent act, there is no explanation as to how Tom’s powers come to manifest themselves. In a quasi-superhero themed movie of this nature, made strictly for entertainment, none is particularly needed.

Guilt stricken over what happened to Lucy, who spends the majority of the film bed-ridden, and understandably traumatized, Tom begins to exact revenge under the moniker ‘iBoy.’ He wants to bring Lucy’s rapists to justice; a positive by-product of his vigilantism is, in the process, he helps to eliminate members of the drug dealing gangs that wreak havoc in his neighborhood. Tom’s new special powers, allow him to hack into the memory of the cell phone of one of the thugs that was used to film Lucy’s attack. From that, Tom begins to identify who was responsible, some of whom turn out to be student’s in his school. Additional powers, amongst others that Tom demonstrates during the film, is his ability to: manipulate electronic devices in order to use police surveillance equipment to his benefit; control the locking systems of automobiles; and function like a computer, instantaneously downloading information. As time passes, Tom’s retribution against the gang members increases from simply exposing their private moments for all to see, to putting their freedom, and in certain instances, their very lives in jeopardy. None of it sits well with Ellman, the boss of the criminal enterprise, convincingly portrayed, during limited screen time, by BAFTA nominated actor Rory Kinnear (Southcliffe).

How far will Tom take his vigilantism? Will he be apprehended by the police for his actions? Does his true identity become exposed to the gang members? What will they do if they capture him? Will they kill him outright, or exploit his powers for their own gain? What will happen to Lucy? Does she help ‘iBoy’ bring her brutal assailants to justice?

iBoy” was directed by Adam Randall. The screenplay was by BAFTA nominated writer, Joe Barton (Our World War); additional writing credits for the film are listed for Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood. Parts action – crime – Sci-Fi and thriller, the film was released internationally on January 27, 2017. “iBoy” doesn’t contain anything that audiences haven’t seen before. The tropes on display throughout the movie’s 90 minute duration are present in a number of other superhero themed films, albeit, on a much smaller scale. In the interest of full disclosure, I only watched the Netflix original because Williams is in it. Arya Stark is my favorite character on “Game of Thrones,” and I enjoy seeing Williams in other productions. In my opinion, she is a very talented actress, who I believe will only continue to get better, the more her career evolves. The film, in and of itself, was passable entertainment for one time viewing. It wasn’t a bad film, nor a great one, just something that, for me, primarily because Williams had a co-starring role, held my interest until the closing credits.

 

 

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“Train to Busan”

Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) loves his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim). He wants to be an integral part of her life, however, due to his very demanding, albeit financially rewarding occupation as a fund manager, he is seldom at home. In his stead, Soo-an is looked after by Seok’s mother. Soo-an loves her grandmother, but yearns to go live with her own mother, who Seok is estranged from. Seok, as the viewer learns from a phone conversation he has with Soo-an’s mother, wants sole custody of his daughter, for reasons that are never stated in the movie. Reluctant, however, wanting to please Soo-an because it is her birthday, Seok agrees to accompany her on an early morning train ride from Seoul, South Korea to the city of Busan, so she can visit her mother. Seconds before the high-speed KTX train is about to disembark the station, a woman (Eun-kyung Shim) stumbles on board. The woman’s presence will alter the lives of all of the passengers, turning a seemingly innocent train ride into a life and death struggle for survival. Unbeknownst to those on board, a viral zombie outbreak has begun. (As an aside: The animated film “Seoul Station” is a prequel to “Train to Busan”).

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The conventional zombie tropes are in place in the film: When a person is bitten by a zombie, soon afterward, they themselves will turn into a member of the undead, at which time they will lose all sense of self pertaining to the person they were. In addition to their deadly bite, the zombies in “Train to Busan,” as they were, for instance, in Oscar winning director Danny Boyle’s film “28 Days Later,” move at a quick pace. They do, however, have a weakness. They are only compelled to attack when they can see; it is something which the passengers discover early on in the film, prompting them to cover up the windows in-between train cars. Armed with that knowledge, when need be, passengers can move cautiously from one train car to the next, when the train goes through a tunnel.

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The narrative for the film extends beyond just Seok and Soo-an as the focal points of the story. There are other characters, that make their presence known during the harrowing train ride. Sang Hwa (Dong-seok Ma), who dotes on his pregnant wife Sung (Yu-mi Jung), who demonstrates he will fight with his last breath to protect those he loves, is one such character the viewer should wind up rooting for. Yong-Suk (Eui-sung Kim), a self-centered and duplicitous businessman, will garner the opposite reaction. Young Gook (Woo-sik Choi), the only member of his high school baseball team to survive after the initial outbreak, is fighting to keep both himself, and his friend from school, Jin-hee (Sohee), alive until they reach safety. Furthermore, there are two elderly sisters, Jong-gil (Myung-sin Park) and In-gil (Soo-jung Ye), who seemingly can’t exist without the other. Lastly, there is a homeless man (Gwi-hwa Choi), who is first discovered hiding in the bathroom, saying “they’re all dead.”

Once it is learned that a deadly outbreak has occurred, the KTX train conductor, (Seok-yong Jeong) attempts to contact headquarters to find out where it is safe to disembark passengers. The first stop he makes is very ill-advised, but provides for an action packed sequence at a train station, where the military is supposedly going to escort those survivors on the train to a safe location. As the passengers make their way through what appears to be an abandoned station to where the military is waiting, something appears very off. The large group of soldiers sent to establish law and order, and protect those who haven’t been infected, have themselves been turned into zombies. What takes place next, is all-out adrenaline fueled chaos. Those who just left one nightmarish situation, have to fight their way back to the train, which still contains a great many zombies trapped aboard. From an intensity standpoint, this was one of the scenes that really stood out, in a film that is packed with heart pounding moments.

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“Train to Busan” is a gripping, suspenseful and well paced film that offers a good balance between drama and horror. The movie was written for the screen and directed by Yeon Sang-Ho (Seoul Station). The movie is the director’s first live-action film; prior to “Train to Busan, he directed animated features. Parts action – drama – thriller – and horror, the film has a runtime of 118 minutes. “Train to Busan” premiered in France at the Cannes Film Festival on May 13, 2016. The dialogue is in Korean, but has English sub-titles. The cinematography by Hyung-deok Lee (A Company Man), captures the perfect feeling of claustrophobia that the train setting reduces its passengers to, especially under the dire circumstances. Furthermore, there is no headache inducing shaky camera work on display. The film is further enhanced by mostly practical effects as opposed to overutilization of CGI, as well as a soundtrack composed by Jang Young-gyu that synchs perfectly with what is transpiring on screen.

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“The People vs. Fritz Bauer”

The title character,  Fritz Bauer, spent a significant portion of his legal career as a prosecutor in the West German government, attempting to apprehend, bring to trial, and expose wanted Nazi war criminals. In the 1930s, Bauer, who was Jewish, was sent to a concentration camp. Managing to gain freedom from the camp, Bauer spent the remainder of World War II living abroad in Denmark and Sweden. He returned to his native Germany toward the latter part of the 1940s. “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” dramatizes a portion of Bauer’s legal career that was not made known to the public until a decade after his death on July 1, 1968. To paraphrase Bauer: He was not seeking revenge for the atrocities committed against the Jewish people, and others, during the Holocaust, although he did want to mete out justice. Instead, Bauer’s primary reason for dedicating his life’s work to the pursuit of bringing Nazi’s to justice, was to ensure a better future for Germany. He especially wanted the  future of the youth of Germany to be one where they embraced a positive identity that they could take pride in. Bauer felt, however, that such an ideal could only be achieved if the past was spoken about and dealt with.

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The film begins in Frankfurt, Germany in 1957. Bauer, in a role completely embodied by Burghart Klaussner (Good Bye, Lenin), having drank alcohol, and taken one too many sleeping pills, is discovered by his chauffeur, passed out in his bathtub. The incident leads those former Nazis, who are looking to remove Bauer from a position of power, to speculate that the he attempted to commit suicide. Bauer, knowing full well, that the police have searched his apartment, responds that if he wanted to kill himself, he would have used his pistol. Determined to keep moving forward with his agenda of brining wanted Nazi’s to justice, Bauer is not thwarted by the incident.

Bauer was familiar with the speculation that Martin Bormann who, during the Third Reich, was the head of the Party Chancellery, as well as the private secretary to Adolph Hitler, had not died, as stated, fleeing from the Russian’s in the streets of Berlin, but was living somewhere in South America. Bauer also knew, for a fact, that the infamous, Dr. Josef Mengele, also known by his moniker ‘The Angel of Death,’ because of his deadly medical experiments, and the role he played in selecting untold numbers of people for the gas chambers upon their arrival in Auschwitz, was hiding in Argentina. While the capture of either would be a crowning achievement for Bauer, early on in the film, he is tipped off as to the exact whereabouts of one of the architects of the ‘Final Solution,’ SS Lieutenant-Colonel Adolf Eichmann. The film occasionally contrasts between Bauer’s pursuit of justice in West Germany, and the life the vile Eichmann, a role acted by Michael Schenk, is leading in Argentina, including an interview he gives to a pro-Nazi journalist, where he speaks about being disappointed in himself, that more Jews weren’t murdered.

Ironically, it is not hatred on the part of a camp survivor or family member that had lost a loved one during the war that brings the location of Eichmann to Bauer’s attention, but love. Bauer receives a letter from the father of a German family, Lothar Hermann (Christopher Buchholz) living abroad in Argentina. The Hermann’s daughter (Lavinia Kiessler) has fallen in love with one of Eichmann’s sons. At first, the information can be construed as a gift, and while Bauer is happy to receive a solid lead, it also presents him with a difficult conundrum. If Bauer takes it to his superior, Georg August Zinn (Götz Schubert), it is highly probable that someone will tip Eichmann off and he will be long gone, living under a new alias, before the authorities from Interpol arrive to apprehend him. If, as he considers, he takes the information to the Mossad (The national intelligence agency of Israel), and it is discovered he bypassed proper government channels than he could be tried for treason.

At great personal peril to himself, Bauer meets with the Mossad, and presents them with the letter. While they are grateful that he is willing to help bring a unrepentant, murderer to justice, they nonetheless, opt to pass on the information. Bauer is told that Israel, at that moment in time, has to concentrate all of its efforts on defending itself from its enemies, who are intent on obliterating it. Furthermore, while information on wanted Nazi war criminals is highly appreciated, Bauer is informed that the Mossad has received numerous reports as to Eichmann’s exact location, and one source, is just not enough for them to invest their time and manpower. In order to move forward, Bauer would have to present them with a second confirmed source verifying Eichmann’s location.

The cunning, cantankerous, heavy-smoker, Bauer,  who is full of steadfast zeal, is not dissuaded by what he is told.  When he returns to Germany to seek out a second confirmed source, in addition to the death threats he has received, he is presented with another daunting impediment. Paragraph 175, a law which went into effect on May 15, 1871, and was revised by the Nazi’s in 1935, punished any man who engaged in sexual acts with another man. Punishments included a prison term of upwards of ten years in a penitentiary, and a loss of civil rights. The law, which was still on the books in 1957, and would remain so until 1994, presents a problem for Bauer. Paul Gebhardt (Jörg Schüttauf)  of the West German, Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, has been furnished with a police report from Denmark which lists Bauer as having visited male prostitutes while living there. Former Nazi’s currently working in the German government, seeking to do Bauer harm, and end his quest to bring Eichmann to justice, have to merely make sure the report finds its way into the appropriate hands. Bauer, a man who seemingly has no friends, only work colleagues, is able to trust very few people. He enlists the help of one of his junior state attorneys, the newly married, Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld), who has some secrets of his own pertaining to lounge singer, Victoria (Lilith Stangenberg). Furthermore, Angermann is not fully sold on betraying his government, in order to help a foreign intelligence agency. Will Angermann’s assistance be the help Bauer needs or will it lead to his ultimate downfall? (As an aside: Although a great deal of the film is historically accurate, the Angermann character is fictional).

Lars Kraume (Guten Morgen, Herr Grothe), directed “The People vs. Fritz Bauer,” and co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Olivier Guez. The movie premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland on August 7, 2015. The dialogue is in German, but has English sub-titles. Parts biography, drama and thriller, it has a runtime of 105 minutes. Certain viewers may find the film at times to be slow moving, or too dialogue driven. The movie is certainly more of a cerebral viewing experience, but one that held my interest from the opening scene to the closing credits. Featuring excellent performances from a well rounded cast, spot on directing, and an absorbing story, for those of you interested in a lesser known aspect of Post-World War II history, this should make for time well spent.

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“De Palma – A Documentary Spanning The Director’s Career”

“I was really into low-budget horror movies when I was young. Then I started discovering De Palma’s stuff. You could describe a lot of his earlier movies as horror, Body Double, Carrie, Dressed to Kill, The Fury, but there was a lot more than that to them. He was using some of the techniques of horror films in the service of an extremely personal kind of filmmaking. His movies communicate on a lot of different levels, and they’re all sophisticated in their own way. They are not simple films. They just happened to merge nicely with the genre. Watching them, I was learning so much about film language without realizing it.”

  Director, Noah Baumbach

In 2010, over a span of thirty hours, spread out over one week, Academy Award nominee Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), and Jake Paltrow (Young Ones) interviewed director Brian De Palma. The all-encompassing documentary “De Palma,” co-directed by Baumbach and Paltrow, has an approximate running time of 110 minutes. The film, throughout which on-set photographs and film clips are interspersed, details, in chronological order, every facet of Brian De Palma’s career. The documentary, which premiered in Italy on September 9, 2015 at the Venice Film Festival, is not shot through a critical lens. Instead, it allows the director a forum to set the record straight on all of his films; the lauded ones, as well as those that are considered controversial, or have been critically derided. In fact, no critics or film historians are used in the documentary, it is all De Palma answering Baumbach and Paltrow’s questions. (As an aside: The interview with De Palma took place in Jake Paltrow’s living room, and for the sake of continuity, De Palma wore the same shirt every day he was interviewed. Furthermore, Baumbach and Paltrow remain off screen for the entire duration of the interview).

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The documentary begins with a clip from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” De Palma comments that when he saw it for the first time, in 1958, at Radio City Music Hall, that it left an incredible impression on him. To paraphrase: As De Palma evolved as a filmmaker, he began to view “Vertigo” as a showcase as to what directors do in regard to creating illusions. He feels that a filmmaker’s job is to create characters that make the audience want to get invested in the story, and emotionally attached, so that a viewer cares whether or not the character lives or perishes, triumphs or fails. The work of Alfred Hitchcock, and all that it entailed had such a lasting impact on De Palma, that when he made “Sisters” in 1972, he asked Oscar winning, and legendary composer, Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) to come out of retirement, and score the film, which he did. De Palma, in discussing the first session he had working with Herrmann, stated that he made an error by screening a version of “Sisters” in which he had incorporated one of Herrmann’s previous scores. He relays that Herrmann grew irate, screaming for the film to be stopped because, Herrmann stated, hearing previously used music in a new film, not yet scored, would ruin his creative process.

While the film doesn’t spend any appreciable time on his life outside of filmmaking, it does touch briefly on his youth. In addition to always being a lover of the ladies, De Palma talks about the fact that long before film became an interest to him, science was his passion. When he attended Columbia University, in New York City, he concentrated his studies on math, physics and Russian; it wasn’t until he discovered La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) films, directed by amongst others, Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) and Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless), that he began to seriously consider film a career choice.

De Palma signed up for Cinema 16, which was a New York City film club, where avant-garde, independent shorts, and experimental films where showcased from 1947 through 1963. The club was run by Amos Vogel, a writer, teacher, and the founder of the New York Film Festival, which began in 1962. De Palma submitted a short film for three straight years, and in the third year, he won for his short “Woton’s Wake.” A while later, he saw a casting notice for a graduate project at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, so he went there, and got into a graduate play, where he met Tony Award winning director and writer, Wilford Leach (The Pirates of Penzance), who became his mentor. De Palma states that it was through Leach where he began to learn the skills needed to be a director. De Palma’s first feature, “The Wedding Party” (1969), which he worked on with Leach, came out of a workshop at Sarah Lawrence College. The feature showcased on-screen performances from workshop actors, such as two time Oscar winner, Robert De Niro (The Godfather: Part II), Academy Award and Golden Globe, nominee, Jill Clayburgh (An Unmarried Woman), and Emmy nominee, Jennifer Salt (Nip/Tuck).

From that moment forward in the documentary, as previously stated, there is  no area of De Palma’s career that is not delved into. In addition to many other topics, he speaks about the lawsuits that accompanied his 1974 film “Phantom of the Paradise.” Furthermore, he relays the fact that he was going to hire a different actress, other than Oscar winner Sissy Spacek, for “Carrie. Spacek was a set-designer on a De Palma film, and even though she had booked a commercial for which she was being paid, she opted to skip out on the guaranteed money and part, in order just to have the opportunity to audition for the film adaptation of bestselling author, Stephen King’s novel. De Palma discusses how when he made his homage to “Vertigo” with the 1976 film “Obsession”  he cast, a then unknown, John Lithgow (Dexter), who would go onto win multiple Golden Globes and Emmys, and so far be nominated for two Oscars.

Throughout the interview, De Palma comes across as intelligent, witty, sincere, and self-deprecating. He is forthright when pointing out his shortcomings with certain of his films, for example, the critically panned “Bonfire of the Vanities.”  Conversely, he didn’t shy away when it came to discussing actors who let their egos get the better of them, such as Oscar winner Cliff Robertson’s (Charly) behavior on the set of the film “Obsession.”  De Palma also just as easily gives credit to people who have done good work for him. He sings the praises of, among others, two-time Academy Award winning production designer Richard Sylbert (Carlito’s Way), and BAFTA, Emmy, and Oscar winning, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind).

There is a wealth of additional information relayed by the director during the documentary, which for those of you who are interested, I will refrain from mentioning, so you can hear it for yourself. For fans of De Palma, I would categorize this as a must watch film. In general, for lovers of cinema, who enjoy learning about the behind the scenes aspects of filmmaking – managing the different personalities involved on a film set – keeping those who finance the production satisfied – and a veteran director’s creative process, this is also a film not to be missed.

 

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“Beware the Slenderman”

The catalyst for  HBO’s latest documentary, “Beware the Slenderman,” is a heinous crime, which occurred in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on May 31, 2014 – the stabbing of  Payton Leutner, an adolescent girl. A man, out riding his bicycle, discovered Payton’s blood caked and mutilated body, and immediately called 911. Fortunately for Payton, and her loved ones, she arrived at the hospital in time to have surgical measures taken, which ultimately saved her life. Furthermore, it was revealed during court testimony that one of the incisions, made by the blade from her attacker, missed a major artery by a millimeter, which prevented her from dying. Who would hurt a twelve year old child in such a depraved manner? What type of person would not only stab a young girl upwards of twenty times, but lie, and claim help would be sent. The answers to the questions are just as confounding as the crime itself. The crime was not carried out by a deranged serial killer, nor a perverted pedophile, who wanted to make sure they got their way. Instead, Payton was lured into the woods on the pretext of having a fun day, by two of her friends, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who were also twelve years of age at the time of the incident.

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Instead of getting Payton the medical help she so desperately needed, Morgan and Anissa were discovered by members of law enforcement, walking on Interstate 94, on the outskirts of town. The girls were still in possession of the weapon used in the attack. After being taken into police custody, Morgan and Anissa began to provide details to detectives, not only as to what had happened, but the almost unfathomable reason why their friend had become the victim of their vile attack. As devoid of logical and rational thought as this next part might seem, Anissa and Morgan were ordered to murder Payton. They told detectives that they were in fear, not only for their own lives, but the lives of their family members. The driving force behind their inability to say no, and not carry the crime through to its completion, was the unyielding pressure they both felt was being thrust upon them by The Slenderman: He is a fictitious, on-line boogeyman, who is pale and faceless, is always attired in a dark suit, and has the power to adjust his height, among other things. In actuality, Slenderman is a popular character on the Creepypasta Wiki site, who was originally created by Eric Knudsen, and appeared for the first time on June 10, 2009  on the online forum “Something Awful.” Leaving those facts aside, the girls continued to persist in their belief that Slenderman was all too real. Additionally, Anissa and Morgan felt that by obeying Slenderman’s instructions, they would not only save their families, but become part of his minions. When law enforcement officers picked them up on Interstate 94, the girls were on their way to Nicolet National Forest, where allegedly, the hidden mansion that the Slenderman lives in, along with a number of other undesirables, is located. Anissa and Morgan walked several miles, having no idea that it would have taken them, on foot, at least another five hours to get to the location they were looking for.

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Oscar nominated director, Irene Taylor Brodsky (The Final Inch), spent the better part of eighteen months documenting the aftermath of the crime. The documentary originally premiered on March 11, 2016 at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Interviewed during the film are lawyers, member of law enforcement, psychologists, and those who are considered experts on social media. Everyone the filmmakers spoke to attempted to provide insight as to how two seemingly normal girls, who had never had issues with law enforcement prior to the chaos they unleashed, could be tricked into believing that the character of Slenderman was a viable reality. While delving into the origins of the Slenderman character, and his global on-line reach, the viewer will learn that others like Morgan and Anissa, treat the Slenderman with reverence, but the majority of the on-line community merely uses his character to have fun with: photographs are doctored to make it appear as if Slenderman is watching over a group of people, usually children; on-line videos where people begin to talk about how they’re not feeling well, and all of a sudden Slenderman can be seen lurking in the background; there are also games and stories involving the Slenderman character, as well as many original drawings depicting what he looks like.

Unfortunately, Brodsky was unable to get an interview with the victim’s family members. Additionally, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier were not allowed to be interviewed for the film. In fact, at their court proceedings in the juvenile court, Brodsky and her team were barred from taking photographs of the girls’ faces. The parents of Geyser and Weier, as well as other family members of the girls, speak throughout the duration of the 114 minute documentary. While watching the film, I didn’t feel the parents were trying to condemn the horrific actions their children had taken, but nor did I feel they were trying to sugar coat the events. They want answers as to the ‘why?’ just as much, more so in fact, than anyone involved in the current respective cases involved against their daughters. (As an aside: The girl’s voices are for the most part, with the exception of a phone call home from the juvenile detention center, and some family video footage, heard as they are being interrogated by detectives about what they did to Payton).

The film alternates between all of the aforementioned, and the girls’ competency hearing which will determine if they should be tried as adults or juveniles. In the beginning, it is made known to the viewer, that attorneys for Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, are attempting to get the case moved from the criminal justice system into the juvenile courts. The difference, in regard to punishment, as to what court the case is heard in, could be the difference for the girls of getting out as early as eighteen years of age, or if tried and convicted of attempted murder in a criminal court, having to remain behind bars for upwards of sixty-five years.

There are parts of “Beware the Slenderman” that could have been left out of the documentary, in order to make it a more focused and fluid moving film. Prior to watching the movie, I knew very little about Slenderman and the vicious crime that was perpetrated by the two pre-teen girls in his name. The documentary should appeal to those of you who are interested in watching films or television shows that deal with true crime, or are based on real life crimes. Fans of “Making a Murderer” might enjoy this, but to a lesser degree because there is no ambiguity regarding the guilt of the girls. I won’t spoil it for those of you, who haven’t seen it yet, but while there is no Steven Avery wrongful incarceration situation that is revealed during the film, information that is released regarding Morgan Geyser might go a long way in explaining why she was susceptible to going through with what she did.

The trial of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier is set to begin this year, so perhaps, Brodsky and her crew will decide to return to Wisconsin, and follow up with all involved. If they do, I’ll be interested in learning what will be the ultimate fate of the two girls, and hopefully learn that the victim, in all of this, Payton Leutner, has been able to move forward as best she can, and is living a productive life.

 

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“The Monster” (2016)

Kathy, portrayed by Emmy nominee Zoe Kazan (Olive Kitteridge), is a divorced, neglectful mother, who frequently smokes, and drinks to the point of passing out. The young, but willful, Lizzy, played by Ella Ballentine (Anne of Green Gables), acts more like the parent in the relationship. She cleans up the beer and liquor bottles scattered about their home, tries to encourage Kathy to quit drinking, and is there to curl up next to her mother while she is passed out on the kitchen floor, having once again succumbed to her addiction. The aforementioned is shown via flashbacks, a technique which is used throughout the film. At the start of the film, the viewer will learn that the relationship between Kathy and Lizzy, is a contentious and volatile one. Additional incidents from the past are also used to reinforce the tenor of their relationship. For example, in one scene, Lizzy insists her mother not drive her to her play, or for that matter, attend the performance. The reaction Lizzy receives after stating her feelings to Kathy is filled with a verbal tirade of expletives. Furthermore, there is a scene where Lizzy is holding a knife too close to her sleeping mother’s face, where one slip of her hand, or Kathy waking up with a sudden movement could cause serious damage. Those toxic moments from the past, combined with other factors, have led Lizzy to make the decision that she wants to go live with her father, Roy (Scott Speedman). Mother and daughter, set out on a road trip, later than Lizzy would’ve liked because Kathy forgot to set her alarm, and is slow to move, due to her hangover. (As an aside: Golden Globe winner, Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) was originally cast in the role of Kathy).   

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During a stop at a gas station, Kathy hands Lizzy a wristwatch that belonged to her mother. The explanation Kathy gives Lizzy as to why she’s giving her the watch, is because she knows Lizzy is not coming back to live with her. Lizzy neither confirms nor denies Kathy’s statement. Later that evening, while driving in the rain, along a wooded road, that is no longer frequently traveled, Kathy’s car hits a wolf. The automobile goes into a tail spin, is damaged in the process, and Kathy suffers a minor injury to her wrist. Lizzy, who is shaken up, but appears to be okay, calls 911, and a tow truck and ambulance are dispatched to their location, but Lizzy is told it will take some time before they arrive. Kathy and Lizzy get out to observe the condition of the wolf, which appears dead, however, a short while after returning to their car, they notice that the wolf is no longer laying in the road. Kathy reasons that it probably just limped off to go die in the woods. Lizzy, however, who sometimes clings to a stuffed animal – a dog that chimes music – and believes in the validity of monsters, is not so certain.

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After a bit of time passes, the tow truck arrives, and the driver, Jesse (Aaron Douglas), assesses the situation. While underneath, Kathy’s car, fixing some damage, he hears noises that sound like they are coming from an animal. He shines his light in the direction he think he hears the noises coming from. During this time, the creature, which other than its propensity for inflicting harm, its dislike of bright light, and its appearance, the viewer learns almost nothing about, has attacked Jesse. Wherever the creature has taken him off to, he hasn’t killed him. A short while later, Jesse manages to crawl toward the open door of his tow truck; he is already missing an arm. The same arm, that was hurled by the creature, onto the windshield of Kathy’s car, causing both she and Lizzy to scream wildly. There is not much they can do to help Jesse. Kathy beeps her car horn, but it does nothing to stop the creature’s attack, and, if the creature was not already aware of the two females, it merely alerts the monster to their presence.

The monster does, indeed, become interested in Kathy and Lizzy. Their last best hope is the arrival of the ambulance, but the EMT’s don’t take heed of Kathy’s warning that they have to get moving immediately. Sadly, both technicians, who were there to help Lizzy and Kathy, wind up becoming victims of the creature. Credit must be given to Kathy’s character; despite the personal strife between she and Lizzy, once an outside force seeks to hurt her daughter, Kathy abandons her self-centeredness, and is willing to put herself in harm’s way to  protect Lizzy. Taking it upon herself, Kathy puts the ambulance in drive and speeds off, thinking that she and her daughter’s arduous nightmare is at an end, but not so fast. Within no time at all, the monster has attacked the ambulance, causing it to land on its side.

Will Kathy and Lizzy survive their ordeal? Is the key to their escape surviving until day time, when the monster goes off to hide in darkness? Are the mother and daughter rescued by other people? What means of fighting the creature do Kathy and Lizzy have at their disposal? Can they formulate a plan to kill the monster? Do they have to take a more radical approach, so that one of them can go off and seek help? If Kathy and Lizzy do manage to make it out of their horrific situation, can their relationship as mother and daughter be salvaged? The answers are provided by the film’s conclusion.

“The Monster” premiered during the Beyond Fest, in Los Angeles, California on October 6, 2016. The film was both written for the screen, and directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers). The movie comprises the genres of drama and horror, and has an approximate runtime of 91 minutes. I read mixed reviews about the film, before having the opportunity to sit down and watch it this past Friday evening. Several reviewers I read labeled it as a boring waste of time, while others found it to be quite laudable. My general opinion of the film was that it was certainly not great, but nor was it bad. I felt that Kazan and Ballentine had excellent on-screen chemistry, and both gave convincing performances. Additionally, I thought the atmosphere, tone, and the filmmakers opting not to use jump scares when it came to utilizing the monster were all good choices. I wasn’t enamored with the film, nor like some, did I think it was a metaphor for alcohol addiction. Leaving that aside however, although for me, I feel it will be a one-time only viewing, I was entertained by the movie, and sometimes that is all I need to be, when watching a film.

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