The Witch: A New-England Folktale
In 1630s New England, I guess there really were witches.
This is the time of year when it's slim pickins' for good films. The Oscars are over and the summer blockbusters and Oscar worthy films are yet to come. I'm not interested in animation like "Kung Fu Panda 3," sappy movies that are supposed to inspire like "Eddie the Eagle," Ryan Reynolds in a mask in "Deadpool" or historical epics like "Gods of Egypt." But I like comedies and the occasional horror film, so that's how I found myself sitting alone in the theatre watching "Zoolander 2" last week and this week "The Witch," a movie I probably would not have gone to the theatre to see.
It's 1630 and, for a reason that is unclear, a very religious family is cast out of the walled "plantation" and forced to live alone out on a farm near some very scary looking woods. There's the father, William (Ralph Inneson) a joyless religious zealot and his equally zealous wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), both of whom you might recognize from "Game of Thrones", Thomasin, the oldest daughter (a lovely Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb, the oldest son (Harvey Scrimshaw) and the twins, Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), who are obnoxious to the point that I wouldn't have minded a witch throwing them in an oven, "Hansel and Gretel" style.
A little baby, Sam, has just been born and while Thomasin is watching him and playing peek-a-boo, as in closing her eyes and then opening them and saying "Boo" to the baby, one of those times when she opens her eyes, little Sam is gone. We see a shadowy figure in a red cape walking away into the woods and the sound of a crying baby, followed by an unpleasant scene of a naked woman doing bad things to the baby and rolling around in his blood. So there really is a witch living in them there woods.
Through a series of unfortunate events, such as Thomasin scaring obnoxious little Mercy by saying she really is a witch and if Mercy doesn't clean up her act she is going to "witch her (but, hey, she was kidding)," the family starts thinking that Thomasin really is a witch. It didn't help that she was the last one to see Sam or the last one to see Caleb before he got lost in the woods and came home naked, sick and ranting or that the mother doesn't seem to really like her. But what about Mercy, talking to the goat, Black Phillip? Isn't that a bit suspicious? It all goes downhill from there for the family as the forces of evil and paranoia take over. No amount of praying seems to keep the devil at bay.
This is no Salem witch trials film, though Director Robert Eggers sets the stage for the kind of superstition and suspicion that lead people to accuse women of being witches. But early on, Eggers shows us a witch, so I guess we are supposed to believe there really are witches out there and evil forces swirling around.
The film, written and directed by Eggers creates a real sense of ominousness, especially Mark Korven's music. The costumes are on point and the acting is excellent. This is not a gory horror film in the classic sense, but rather a psychological thriller that casts a sense of dread throughout. But there is nothing to make you jump out of your seat. I found it slow moving, I got tired of the characters saying a lot of "thee's" and "thou's," there were unexplained holes in the plot and the ending was dumb.
Rosy the Reviewer says...If you liketh your horror moody and historical, with a bit of the devil thrown in, you might liketh this, otherwise, methinks thou shouldst skip this one or waiteth until it cometh out on DVD.
***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!
Now Out on DVD
99 Homes (2014)
An unemployed single Dad, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), finds his Florida home in foreclosure and ends up working for the very guy who kicked him out of his house.
Caught in the housing bubble, Dennis Nash finds himself unemployed and losing his Orlando, Florida home in foreclosure. His young son and his mother (Laura Dern), who runs a beauty salon out of the house, live with him.
Speak of the devil (see review above) Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is foreclosure guy extraordinaire. He is a real estate broker making a killing repossessing homes for the banks. He seems to actually enjoy his job - kicking old ladies out of their homes.
The film begins with a body in a bathroom. A man facing foreclosure has blown his brains out rather than face eviction. This film starts out early showing the harsh reality of what a forced eviction looks like. The cops and the eviction guys show up and give you 20 minutes to collect your things before everything you own is brought out and placed in the street.
This happens to unemployed single Dad, Dennis Nash, his mother and his young son. Carver shows up at their house and evicts them. They end up in a motel with a bunch of sketchy types. But as fate would have it, Dennis, desperate to do anything to provide for his family, ends up working for Carver and doing his dirty work. The Evictee becomes the Evictor, thus illustrating beautifully the human condition - you will do anything to survive. He does this so he can get his old house back, but he also is making a deal with the devil. However, where Carver is seemingly cold-hearted, Nash has a conscience and therein lies the drama.
There is a scene giving some insight into Carver. He is a cold hearted devil during the day as he evicts peple but at home with his little girls he is a happy family man. Carver has also figured out how to rip off the government. He sends his goons into empty homes that have been foreclosed on, steals the air conditioning or the appliances and then overcharges FANNIE MAE for their replacements. But as the film progresses, we also learn how Carver ended up in this racket.
The film is full of scenes where people are losing their homes. One particularly poignant scene features an old man in his bathrobe being evicted and he can't understand why. He is clearly confused and protests that he has a reverse mortgage, his wife had taken care of it and he was supposed to be able to live in his house until he died.
Andrew Garfield is always good, though I never bought him as Spider Man. Laura Dern seems too young to play Garfield's mother but brings her usual jittery sensitive kind of performance. But it is Shannon, with his craggy looks, who stands out. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for this believable and scary performance.
Directed by Ramin Bahrani, the film has some problems, such as why Carver would take Nash under his wing in the first place, but it's still an important film that should make you mad.
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you really want to get mad, watch "The Big Short" and then this one to see how the collapse of the real estate market affected the little guys.
I Smile Back (2015)
Laney Brooks has issues...she is a wife and Mom but she also takes a lot of drugs and sleeps around.
Sarah Silverman is a strange choice for this seemingly modern version of "Diary of a Mad Housewife" but they always say that comedians have a deep dark side (think Robin Williams).
Laney Brooks is a woman who seemingly has it all: a husband, children, a beautiful home but she has to self medicate to ameliorate her self loathing.
Every day she makes her childrens' lunches and decorates their lunch bags. She leaves her perfect home to drop her perfect children off at their perfect school and then she lives the rest of the day drinking, drugging and having sex with her friend's husband.
Silverman certainly goes for it in this film. There is nudity and a very unpleasant sex scene but she does a good job of showing a woman going down the rabbit hole. Is this what happens when a woman stays home to care for the children and when they no longer need her, she can't cope?
We've seen this story before, but Silverman gives it an unsentimental edge that probably comes from years as an edgy female comic in a male dominated world. But some of the scenes are so degrading, such as masturbating with a teddy bear on the floor of her son's room, that one wonders if this is what an actress has to do to get dramatic acting cred. Think of Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball" and Charlize Theron in "Monster."
Laney has a breakdown and overdoses. She goes to rehab and wants to come clean with her husband about everything but he doesn't want to hear. It's almost as if he prefers the status quo and for her to stay medicated. She goes to see her errant Dad who won't acknowledge that he abandoned her. He has a new little girl and Laney says angrily "Make it work this time." She relapses and as these things do, it all goes to hell. So is drug abuse all about Daddy issues?
Directed by Adam Salky and scripted by Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman, from her own book, this is a harrowing look at the life of a suburban housewife, but, other than that, I'm not sure exactly what this movie was trying to tell us. It's a bit over the top, and I could have done without the ending. But Silverman is as edgy dramatically here as she is edgy as a comedian. I wouldn't expect anything less.
Rosy the Reviewer says...Silverman's performance is a revelation but brace yourself for some harrowing scenes.
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
258 to go!
Have YOU seen this classic film?
This film picks up where "Alien" left off. The planet from the first film has been colonized, but something has happened to the people living there so Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) leads a rescue team to find out what happened.
A salvage space craft encounters Ripley in her spacecraft where she has been in hyper sleep for 57 years with her cat Jonesy since leaving the planet, LB 426, where she encountered those aliens in the first movie. She is taken to a space station where she is horrified to learn that the planet she left has since been colonized and how contact from the colonists has been lost. There is a suspicion that it must be aliens. What? Again? Even though Ripley appeared to have ridded the planet of the aliens, somehow those pesky aliens must have laid their eggs on the planet. Sigh.
Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), a representative of the company that paid millions to set up that colony, wants Ripley to go back and investigate. Ripley says no way. It took her 57 years to get out of that damn place. But Burke says he will reinstate her as a flight officer if she will go back to the planet as an advisor. She decides to go if they promise to get it right and finally annihilate those aliens once and for all. So Ripley, Burke and a team of space marines head back to the planet to get those damn aliens.
When they get to the planet, the only survivor appears to be a little girl, Newt (Carrie Henn). The colonists appear to have been encased in alien gel AKA "secreted resin." Yuck. The little girl awakens Ripley's maternal instinct and when that old maternal instinct kicks in, the aliens better watch out.
The first movie was directed by Ridley Scott, who is still going strong with his latest hit "The Martian," but this one is scripted and directed by James Cameron, post "Terminator" and pre "Titanic" with music by the late, great James Horner, who just died this last year.
Sigourney Weaver reprises her role as Ripley, one of the first really badass women characters. Weaver was an interesting choice for that character with her patrician looks and pedigree (her father was Pat Weaver, who had been the head of NBC).
Paul Reiser, who got his start as a comic and was probably most famous for the TV show "Mad About You," gets to exercise his dramatic chops.
The film was surprisingly slow to get started. It was almost an hour before any aliens were encountered, but once that happened, it was a non-stop, intense, shoot-em-up war between the aliens and the humans.
Not sure why I didn't see this film when it first came out. It must have been that I never got over that alien spurting out of John Hurt's chest in the first one. Just thinking about that now gives me the willies.
I was surprised at how stilted and bad the dialogue was. I expect that to be the case when I am watching some of the old films from the 30's and 40's but the 80's? One wouldn't expect dialogue that doesn't hold up well. I would expect the visual effects to be primitive in a pre-CGI world but not the dialogue. And then there's Weaver's 80's hair!
Why it's a Must See: "One of cinema's greatest sequels...If 'Alien' was a haunted-house-in-space frightener, Cameron's relentless, furiously intense thrill-ride (winning the franchise's second effects Oscar) is the fort under siege in space..."
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Rosy the Reviewer says...not sure about one of the greatest sequels ever...and you know how I feel about sequels, but the last hour is exciting and I love films with badass women stars. If you liked the first one, you will like this one.
***Book of the Week***
While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man's Descent into Madness by Eli Sanders (2016)
The true crime account of a violent murder in Seattle in 2009.
I like true crime books, not because I enjoy the descriptions of the crime or even the trial that follows, but rather I appreciate shining a light on the lives of the victims, that we see them as real people rather than reduced to mere crime statistics.
Author Sanders has done a wonderful job of telling the stories of Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper, two women who found each other and were planning to get married until their lives tragically intersected one night with Isaiah Kalebu, a young man whose life was so rife with mental illness that he didn't stand a chance. As his life spun out of control and descended into madness, the mental health system let chance after chance slip away and when he encountered Butz and Hopper in their home in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle that fateful night, they didn't stand a chance either.
Sanders lays out his book in the usual true crime fashion. It begins with the aftermath of the crime and then does a flashback telling each person's story: Teresa's, Jennifer's and Isaiah's. Then we fast forward to the arrest and trial and then finally, we find out the extent of the crime. But as lurid as this crime was, Sanders must be applauded for not exploiting it. The facts are given but it's over in a few pages. What he dwells on, as he should, are the stories of the people involved and how they happened to collide in such a terrible way that terrible night.
The world of true crime writing lost the highly successful and readable Ann Rule last year. She made a name for herself with her first book, "The Stranger Beside Me," about Ted Bundy, which had a personal slant, because she had worked side-by-side with him at a Seattle Suicide Line. She went on to write such classics as "Small Sacrifices," the story of Diane Downs who killed her children and "Green River, Running Red," about the Green River Killer. Most of her books detailed crimes that took place in the Pacific Northwest.
This book is an expansion of the newspaper article Sanders wrote about the South Park crime and for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. I predict that Sanders will pick up Rule's mantel and run with it. This book is gripping but sensitive in its portrayal of the crime and he gives the victims' lives the respect they deserved. But he also shares the killer's story and describes a life that went terribly wrong and how the system let him down, because he never got the help he needed, despite warning sign after warning sign after warning sign.
Isaiah Kalebu was born to an authoritarian Ugandan refugee father and a mother with a history of mental issues, both who were too busy fighting each other to care for the needs of Isaiah and as he grew and displayed more and more psychotic tendencies, he fell through the mental health care cracks. All of the signs were there that Isaiah was disappearing into mental illness, and yet, the system let him down.
This book is not just a true crime story but an indictment of the mental health care industry, not just in Washington State but in the whole country. It's also a sad commentary on how the mental health care system and the legal system are not working in tandem. There are all of these agencies in the mix and none of them seems to know what the other is doing and that is how Isaiah fell through the cracks and collided one horrible night with Teresa and Jennifer.
This is truly a sad story of two innocent victims and their assailant who himself was a victim of sorts: a victim of our broken mental health system.
But it's a story of forgiveness. As the surviving victim, Jennifer Hopper said,
"I heard somebody describe forgiveness as restoring what there was before. And that forgiveness didn't mean that it was okay, or that there's no responsibility, or that, like, 'I forgive you, it's okay that you did that to me.' It's more like you're restoring the relationship to what it was before. And with him, the relationship that we would have had before is that we would have been strangers. And I would wish him what I would wish any stranger, which is pretty much that I hope they have a good life."
Sanders uses the polluted Duwamish River, which runs through South Park, the area where the attacks took place, as a metaphor of sorts for the flawed mental health system. Cuts to the system are prevalent and without money, little can be done to help and treat the many people who need care. And yet the river has its champions, a citizens group that is trying to clean up the river and make it a wildlife habitat.
Who will champion the broken mental health care system in this country?
"In this city [Seattle] in the distance, one of the most liberal and educated populations in the nation...The educated people of Seattle would regard it as insane to tell their polluted river to clean itself. They would not ask it to pay for the accident of its birth in a beautiful location that ended up not supporting its health. Still, in their state capital, their city's abundant tax revenues continue to be used in a manner that disproportionately hurts their city's homeless, deranged, untreated, and impoverished citizens, a shortsighted strategy that creates the certainty of more pain that seems to arrive with sudden brutality from an unknowable beyond, but does not."
Rosy the Reviewer says...Ann Rule has a successor. Sanders is right up there with the best of the true crime writers but he also is a crusader. Even if you don't usually read true crime, this is a powerful book with a powerful message for all of us. A must read, even if you don't live in the Seattle area.
That's it for this week!
Thanks for Reading!
See you Tuesday for
"How To Be An Interesting Person"
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