MA VIE DE COURGETTE (MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI)

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5/5

One of the more delicate surprises I’ve seen in animated films — and particularly animated films from France — is Ma Vie de Courgette, a little gem of an animated feature that says more about human acceptance than other big studio animated features. Icare is a little French boy living with his alcoholic mother in squalor. As he plays with the cans of beer she leaves behind, they wind up making a mess. When she comes after him in a fury, something pretty horrific happens, and it lands Icare, dejected and withdrawn, in an orphanage by a kindly policeman named Raymond who often visits.

Once at the orphanage Courgette meets the ginger-haired alpha-boy who leads a pack of seven orphans, Simon. Simon taunts him mercilessly and calls him “potato”. [Although, to be fair, little Courgette does resemble a large potato-head with eyes filled with wonder,] Courgette also meets the other six. As it turns out, all of them — Courgette included are victims of horrific family abuse or unjust circumstances. As it turns out, Simon is actually rather insecure and on the constant defensive; it is this position that allows him to distance himself from any real contact and assert his own persona. The arrival of another girl signifies a subtle change in the story’s dynamics, but one that cements the nascent friendships between the kids in the orphanage.

This is a very short movie rooted in minimalism, and that in a way may be somewhat of a detriment because once one finds out where the children come from, the story seems to drop the topic entirely and veer into a totally different direction, which comes across as either incomplete or schizophrenic, two stories mashed into one. On the other hand, this may never have been its intent; viewing it another way, I felt as though the true basis of this little movie was to focus more on the way these kids began to open to each other and to Courgette as well. Perhaps it’s become all-too common to see the darker side of children’s traumas in stories — somehow the Stephen King novel It comes to mind, with its seven children, each from a broken home, having to face their symbolic demons. I was just floored to see how a film with little murmurs and earthquakes of emotion had grown on me, affecting me at a level that I’d rarely experienced before, and how once the inevitable ending came, I was awash in tears of sadness and joy. I would say then that on that basis, this lovely picture, thematically, resonates, and I doubt there will be anyone who isn’t moved by how deep its roots go and how wonderful its gifts are.

Ma Vie de Courgette is playing at the Landmark Sunshine on 2nd Avenue in NYC.

GET OUT

 

GET OUT

4/5

The whole idea of meeting your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s parents is nerve-wracking enough — you don’t want to fuck it up; what will they think of you; what if this, what if that –, and this is the premise that Jordan Peele’s debut movie Get Out bases itself on. A direct descendant of Stanley Kramer’s 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Get Out focuses squarely on Chris Washington (David Kaluuya), a photographer who’s been dating Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) for some time now and whose parents’ estate he’s going to visit. Right from the start the entire trip takes on a sour note when Rose’s car hits a deer and a state trooper stops them, but instead of asking her for her papers, he asks him (he doesn’t drive).

It’s a sour moment all too real for anyone who’s been watching the news for the last several years and has seen white cops overstep their boundaries when stopping black men on the street or roads or public places, and the film seems to be commenting on this situation, letting the scene play itself out until all goes back to normal and we are once again, headed for the Armitage estate. Once at the house, an isolated piece of architecture deep in the woods, the weirdness starts. In walk Rose’s parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) who not only act nice towards Chris, but do so in capital letters, even going as to adopt some hints of black lingo and the father mentioning he would have voted for Obama a third time (another possible commentary by Peele himself, which will reflect on the majority of his audience).

This, however, doesn’t compare to what happens next: he meets the Armitage African American maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the Armitage’s maintenance man Walter (Marcus Henderson), and a neighbor, Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield), all who seem to have walked in from another place and time, or as Chris himself points it in a call he makes to his TSA buddy Rod (LillRel Howery, who completely walks away with the entire picture), “It’s like none of these black folks experienced the Civil Rights Movement.” Things get worse when Chris finds himself being under hypnosis by Missy, sinking into a dark place reminiscent of the black lair of Under the Skin. He’s suddenly loss all control of himself, and it seems Missy can stare right into his mind and bring stuff he’d once thought dead and buried.

The great thing about Get Out is that while it is a horror movie per se, it also knows how to keep the levity up and running so as to not take its premise — something of a cross between The Shining, The Wicker Man,  and a certain Val Lewton-produced movie (and I’m already saying too much) — too much to heart. However, that buildup sequence is so, so good, you don’t want it to end at all, and when it does, all the pieces go flying in all directions and it’s great to see where they go. This is good, solid entertainment, and I’m already anxious to see what Peele delivers next.

A CURE FOR WELLNESS

 

A CURE FOR WELLNESS

0/5

Don’t be fooled by the trailer above. If you walk in thinking you’re about to see something that has Lovecraftian overtones when you see Mia Goth naked in a tub that hints at stuff writhing just beyond the scope of vision, you’ll be so angry you will want to throw something viciously at the screen. Then, you’ll wind up scaring the crap out of anyone within seating distance, which will snowball into a brawl with movie theater personnel intervening, people filming you on their cameras and posting to YouTube and Instagram, and before you know it, you’re that nut who went berserk in a theater, all because you saw something that was (if you can believe it) worse than a marathon of M Night Shyamalan films without a drop of alcohol for comfort.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one so bear with me. A hot-shot Wall St. executive named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) gets summoned into the firm he works at because it looks like their CEO has gone MIA while on vacation in the Swiss Alps and they need to close a deal. They send Lockhart to Switzerland to bring his boss back pronto or else. Now, wait til you get a look at the spa proper: think a majestic castle nestled deep inside the mountains where old folk live in the lap of luxury. However, from the get-go, things aren’t what they seem. For instance, a ball lands near a gutter that Verbinski presents to us as “sinister.” Okay, point taken. Then the staff itself is less than helpful; visiting hours are over, and Lockhart’s boss is unavailable. Forced to leave, Lockhart’s cab driver (who, incidentally, continues to show up over and over again) hits a deer, sending the car into a tailspin, and landing Lockhard back in the spa with cast on his leg.

In no time Lockhart starts meeting weirdness — a young girl (the aforementioned Goth) who sings a tune straight out of Rosemary’s Baby, the head doctor of the spa, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who may as well be wearing a sign that says “Villain, here!” Soon, Lockhart gets dumped into a tank filled with water, supposedly to conduct ‘tests’, and while under, the tank gets filled with eels as the doctor in charge masturbates to a rail thin nurse with emaciated breasts. You may be wondering what the hell is happening here, and so was I: it turns out, the spa is the site of a castle where ‘experiments’ were made on humans, and under Volmer’s supervisions, it seems these experiments may not have been abandoned but continued, ostensibly to find the ‘cure’ for sickness and the miracle of youth.

Okay. Fair enough. The setup isn’t that bad; the problem is that it goes right into the same, ultra-tired horror movie tropes that have been used since the dawn of horror almost a hundred years ago. Because Lockhard can’t leave without his boss he walks right into traps with amazing ease: the water he drinks makes him hallucinate and get nosebleeds. Like a hero in an Edgar Allan Poe story he finds himself delving into the deep recesses of the spa and finding not just jars with fetuses but old people in agonizing pain and others inside water tanks in suspended animation. And eels, eels, more eels than you would care to see, all over the place: none of this even remotely scary because it’s all been done to death by now. To top it all, none of the creepy imagery ever adds up to much, but by then, Verbinski has slathered so many layers upon layers of other horror movie sequences that it becomes tiresome. By the time the movie inches towards its denouement, it’s lost complete control of whatever potential it had (and to be fair, it did, at the start), slipped off the rails, and devolved into a third-rate Phantom of the Opera.

ON DEMAND: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

 

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

5/5

Just when you thought the zombie apocalypse was all but dead Colm McCarthy appears with a fresh different approach even when it still includes familiar situations typical of the genre. His film version of the Mike Carey novel of the same name comes to vivid life under the eyes of a little girl names Melanie (Sennia Nanua).

Through the eyes of Melanie we get to see the world around her. It’s a grim world — her room little more than a makeshift cell where she’s kept locked in. Every morning she gets the rude awakening in literal form — guards with guns come in, truss her up in a wheelchair, place a mask over her face, and lead her to class where she and other children learn under the tutelage of Miss Perrineau (Gemma Arterton). Perrineau is the only adult whom Melanie relates to and who doesn’t see her as a freak of nature (or a ‘hungry’, as the zombies are referred to here), but an act of affection, caught by Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine), reveals just how dangerous these children are. Parks approaches one of the kids with his naked arm extended out and places it right in front of the boy’s face. In seconds the boy becomes a twisting, writhing form straining against his straps, snapping his teeth like a feral animal.

The children — and Melanie included — are the second generation of people born after the zombie apocalypse that practically destroyed humanity, and a later explanation by Caldwell reveals just how gruesome their births were. While infected, they still exhibit normal human behavior, and Melanie is the smartest of them all, acutely aware of everything around her, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), a scientist in charge of the compound, has discovered that the origin of the virus that took over society is bacterial in nature; the bacteria hijacks the brain and reduces the person into a raving animal in order to propagate itself. Caldwell is searching for a cure for the virus, and has settled on Melanie as her next experiment due to her intelligence.

Just as Caldwell is about to start her macabre experiment, pandemonium breaks loose when hungries break through and invade the compound in a stunning, expertly choreographed sequence. Caldwell, Perrineau, Parks, a few other guards escort Melanie out of the now ruined compound into the unknown as they attempt to find a secure location where to find refuge and for Caldwell to further her studies. Escorting Melanie doesn’t come easy; the girl is still capable of taking them out in seconds if they drop their guard, so they keep her strapped to the top of a truck. Moving into London they find a city in ruins, but the most surreal imagery comes from the group silently navigating on foot through a horde of frozen hungries while trying to avoid even the slightest detection: a sound, a smell could trigger these apparently sentient beings into a frenzy.

The zombie genre in Mike Carey’s novel continues to evolve, even when it presents familiar scenarios of people in danger, tenuous alliances being formed, self-serving egos, and third-act revelations that ever-so-subtly place the entire concept on its head by cleverly linking it to a reverse Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With an extraordinary lead as Melanie, the entire story takes on another dimension found in some of the short segments of World War Z (the book). The Girl With All the Gifts doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but it’s deeply atmospheric, reasonably well-acted, and one of the better entries in quite some time ever since The Walking Dead made the whole thing mainstream.

If you have DirecTV, you can watch The Girl With All the Gifts through their OnDemand platform — it’s been available since late January — and makes its official release in theaters and VOD February 24th.

DETOUR

 

DETOUR

2.5/5

Quentin Tarantino and film-noir have influenced quite a bit of directors and Christopher Smith’s Detour wears its influences loud and clear to a shrill degree. [It even features a clip from the 1945 film of the same name, because Our Hero is a film buff.] I personally like both — I love the ultra-violence that explodes after a leisurely character buildup that only hints at who’s who, and I love noir because of the depths and depravity some characters will go to achieve their means, not to mention, twisty plots that sometimes leave holes unsolved, and feature memorable side characters, not to mention the necessary femme fatale. Detour, to be frank, is as unsubtle as a sledgehammer mashing its way through dry wall, and a hat-trick  that doesn’t feature a rabbit.

Detour attempts to pay homage to both Tarantino and noir by introducing what looks to be a troubled character in Tye Sheridan (previously seen in Mud, Joe, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the direct-to-video Dark Places). Here he’s Harper, a rich kid studying law in an unnamed university. His mother is dying, and he fears his stepdad will pull the plug and take off with the family’s money. We’re made aware of this situation in a conversation Harper has with a rather self-involved friend who’s of no help to both the plot or Harper himself, but perhaps the director thought he’d make good comic relief early on.

Anyhow, we soon cut to a bar scene. This isn’t, it seems, the kind of bar any college kid would hang out at — but I may be wrong. There he overhears a conversation between three thugs, and one of them, Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen, a mass of uncontrollable masculine posturing that recalls a version of James Dean) approaches Harper with plans to get into a brawl. Harper blandly treats Johnny to a drink, the both have a conversation that involves murder for hire. The following day, when Johnny Ray along with his girlfriend Cherry (a wasted Bel Powley) actually show up to do Johnny’s part of the deal it seems Detour will turn into a version of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that it doesn’t, but instead, splits the film into two segments. One follows the three of them into Vegas territory; the other one leaves Harper at home. You’ll have to watch this movie to see what Smith is trying to do with his split narrative, because while that technique has been used before, it doesn’t quite work inasmuch as it will confuse the heck out of you. But, let’s face it, there will be film buffs and cinephiles who love this sort of thing and will call it “inventiveness” in the narrative; to me, it just muddled things up.

A UNITED KINGDOM

A UNITED KINGDOM

4/5

In 1947 Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams (David Oyelowo and Ruth Williams in outstanding, empathetic roles) met each other in a London dance hall and hit it off immediately from the moment they laid eyes on each other and shared their opinions on jazz music. Soon they were seeing each other with an increasing regularity, sensing an increasing intimacy and something bigger than themselves steadily developing between them. It was only time before their escapades would take another more formal tone, and Seretse would pop the question, to which Ruth would accept even if it meant estrangement from her own family and country.

However, while Ruth and Seretse may have been completely in love with each other, they had one hurdle to overcome. For one, Seretse was Prince of Bechuanaland (now Botswana); Ruth Williams was a white Englishwoman. Their marriage occurred two decades before Loving vs. Virginia would take the US by storm and the ban on interracial marriages would get overturned in the entirety of the country. In the UK, while such unions had occurred, Seretse’s and Ruth’s created an international conflict mainly because of Britain’s interests with Bechuanaland and Seretse’s own obligations, which meant he was slated to marry one of his own.

Amma Assante’s follow up to her previous historical romance Belle, a movie that also explored another controversial figure of African descent who had to endure circumstances that were out of her control, is a less complex feature and plays it very, very safe and somewhat two-dimensional. Scenes of intimacy between Seretse and Ruth, for example, are directed with a sense of old-school, old-Hollywood glamour: timidly, and from a safe distance, as opposed to, for example, Brad Pitt’s and Marion Cotillard’s love scene in Allied which went further (and against a whirling sand-storm). I can only assume that Assante believed the story itself was more important, but as a minor observation, I’ve seen other couples receive the full sensual treatment in other movies — that it didn’t happen here may say something of the type of audience this movie was aiming for.

A United Kingdom manages to, even with some time-compressed events, to present the ups and downs the Khamas experienced during the early part of their marriage and the twists and turns both had to undergo in order to prevail above the bureaucracy of the time and the friction between Seretse and his people. Ruth’s fight is just as intense; to win the love and respect of a people who see her as an usurper to the Queen’s throne (as one of Seretse’s sisters spits at her early on. Her’s is a victory hard won and Assante presents it in a moving tribute the woman of the land give Ruth.

And of course, no movie that depicts a couple overcoming odds would be complete without a couple of good villains, and none are as salient and hateful as those played by Jack Davenport and Tom Felton. Both bring that old-school villainy into their performances, and  the picture looks the best when Davenport and David Oyelowo lock horns, and when in one short sequence, Pike quietly and defiantly stands up to Felton. A tad superficial, Assante’s film is a crowd-pleaser filled with emotional peaks and valleys and a highly satisfying ending.

HIDDEN FIGURES

HIDDEN FIGURES

5/5

Coming right at the moment when it seemed that American cinema would forever remain entrenched in whiteness, and also at a time when racial tensions — a matter erroneously considered previously overcome — have reached a dangerous boiling point with the Black Lives Movement, the stepping down of former President Barrack Obama, and the change into the current administration, Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures feels like something fresh that needed to be told, even when the story itself at its bare bones is that of a set of everyday people overcoming adversity. Now, when you add to this equation – to borrow from the math that gets ample screen time during the film’s two-hour run – that the people in question are a) female, b) black, and c) live in a time where the societal norms would never allow them to rise above and segregation ruled the land, you have a completely different sort of film.

The story of three African American women – Katherine Goble (Taraji B Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Morae), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) – would have probably remained in the dark had it not been by the Margot Lee Shetterly book that brought their stories to light.  These women, all skilled mathematicians who longed to be a part of the US space program, had joined the workforce seeking better jobs and a brighter future for themselves and their kids only to face the blatantly cruel limitations of being “computers”: women who only revised mathematical equations, but could not sign their name to them, and another — the color of their skin.

For the most part, the story sticks with Katherine Goble’s story, and we see her plight evolve through scenes that are treated with a slight sense of levity reminiscent of sitcoms. On her first day someone throws a bucket of trash to which she replies, clumsily, that she’s not he cleaning lady. Later on, when she has to go to the restroom, she realizes the building isn’t equipped for someone like her and while the scene gets repeatedly played for laughs, eventually, it explodes into something different that had been simmering right underneath the surface. Taraji B Henson delivers a standout speech that virtually floors everyone within earshot, and causes her no-nonsense boss (Kevin Costner) to take note of her and in a scene pregnant with symbolism that elevates his hard-boiled pragmatism (he just wants the job to get done), and makes him demolish the sign that segregates women’s restrooms. Here is where Hidden Figures did that imperceptible move from feel-good sit-com heavy picture to something heavier that had been sitting there all along. It’s the film’s most iconic scene.

She isn’t out of the clear just yet — there are other hurdles, as the one involving Jim Parsons as an overzealous engineer who will not let her co-author the computations she herself created and will not let her attend meetings that gives her full access to the ever-changing mathematical scenario that can either make or break the space program. Goble even gets small moments of romance when Mahershala Ali shows up as the military man who woos her.

Meanwhile, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson face their own battles: the first, seeing her relegated to a position with no upward mobility and discovering IBM computing, the second, having to see an application curtly dismissed (even though she has the education necessary) because she needs to take a specific number of classes to become a de facto engineer. Add to that, that the only college Jackson can attend is segregated, and she now has to battle in court the right to her own education. Of the two, Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy has the more subtle approach to the racism of her time and her repeated confrontations with an uppity human resources manager (a chilly Kirsten Dunst) is filled with innuendo that reaches a quiet head later on.

You can take Hidden Figures as a history lesson focusing on the African American experience at the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. It is a delicately told dramedy that has small moments of self-awareness but that finally gives black actresses their due to meaty roles, and it’s also an impassioned story about the unsung. Once the movie is over, sit back and enjoy the end credits. You will see just how far these three women went, and how important their humanitarian work became, not just for black women, but women in general.

LAND OF MINE

https://youtu.be/kCgLSY-3bYw

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

When the Nazi’s occupied Denmark they buried a something in the range of two million land mines  underneath the land in an anticipation for a land battle that never happened. Once the Nazi’s fell and the war was over, Denmark took hold of two thousand German prisoners of war to clean up the mess left behind. These weren’t soldiers, however. These were Hitler’s former youth.

Boys, some barely into their teens, were brought in as retaliation against Germany for its crimes against humanity. Commanded by Sergeant Rasmussen (the achingly handsome Roland Moller) who treats the boys as dogs and makes no bones about his contempt, he instructs the boys on how to defuse a mine in one of the movie’s initial sequences. It is a hard scene to watch, but again, our sympathy is not with anything German in this film. The boys get introduced one by one and have their distinct personalities — mainly drawn for plot purposes, since only one or two emerge above the rest as actual people — and thus the movie begins, at the beach, where they must remove 45,000 mines, even at the risk of losing their own lives.

For the most part, Land of Mine — which technically looks like it would be the title of a completely different movie altogether, something closer to Americana, as its direct translation would be Under the Sand — takes off in grim fashion. The boys start searching the pearly white sand for mines, but haven’t eaten. One of them escapes the compound one night, retrieves some food from a nearby house where a woman and her daughter live, and the entire group gets food poisoning. [Later, it’s revealed that the Danish woman intentionally put rat feces in the food. Can’t blame her, but it comes to bite her in the ass somewhat later on in an unexpected fashion.] One of them, a redhead named Wilhelm, vomits all over the piece of beach he’s working on, and in a moment of complete surprise that would make Hitchcock cringe, one of them goes off, severing both his arms, killing him days later.

It’s his death that gives the brutish Rasmussen a change of heart and he buys rations of food so the boys could eat. This, of course, proves to be problematic with his superiors who don’t take to this kindly and remind him these are Germans. Rasmussen, however, has begun to see them as actual boys barely aware of their situation. A tentative camaraderie starts to develop until Rasmussen’s dog gets killed (off-screen) by a mine after chasing a ball. Rasmussen shifts back to his former persona, but there are other events that will make their way into the movie in order to bring a sense of closure between Rasmussen and the boys, which is a none too subtle symbol for Denmark and Germany.

Land of Mine is pretty efficient a a war drama, but that’s it. Nothing in it stands out as grand — how many beach scenes have been filmed with great beauty? Countless, and there is one here during the entire run, and it just doesn’t bring the movie to anything other than okay. I mentioned Hitchcock a couple of paragraphs up for a reason. The first scene involving an exploding bomb happens almost without any warning, and perhaps this was the director’s choice, but it’s not a very good one (and again, reduces the film to flat narration). Sabotage (1937 offers a scene with a bomb and a boy that has since become a textbook example of suspense. That this technique wasn’t used here, or in any other sequence, hurts the film and makes such explosions almost redundant other than gripping.

But let me stop with Hitch for a second: Kathryn Bigelow, one of the best directors out there, delivered a nail-biting movie about the same topic and milked those sequences for all they were worth. She took her own approach, and transformed what could have been mechanical sequences into white-hot suspense that never once let up.

For a year with outstanding films from overseas, I’m a little perplexed why the Academy chose this one over Almodovar’s Julieta, Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, France’s Elle, or South Korea’s The Handmaiden. Me doth think that we tend to love Danish cinema a little too much and grant it gratuitous nominations for the sake of it. Perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere?

ON VOD: MA

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The only way I can classify Celia Rowlston-Hall’s movie is “experimental”. In many ways, it’s startling beautiful and inspired; in others, an absolute misfire that fails to launch. Her presentation of Mother Mary’s pilgrimage to the Great City has no dialogue except a couple of words spoken by a little girl towards the end (who also closes the feature singing “Amazing Grace”), and while the approach is closer to that of ballet or even performance art, it sort of leaves you to on your own to figure out what the heck is all this about.

When we see Ma, as she is called, she’s in the desert pouring sand over herself beatifically. She starts to walk, slowly, almost lurching, tentative, and certainly the scene is inspired — it’s as though Ma herself had been transported to a contemporary setting and was just realizing this wasn’t the Old Land anymore, but America. Her reaction to an approaching car while she walks in the middle of a road is but to crawl on top of it, and allow it to take her wherever the driver (Anthony Pastides) is going. She finds herself soon in a motel, and the image that we get from her in the nude is startling — reed thin, awaif  with nearly unformed breasts — the perfect virgin, you would think. Once naked, she settles in, reacts to the emotions the television offers, and soon an intimate, sensual moment emerges. It’s almost as though Ma were discovering that while she may be a virgin and pure, she’s also a woman, filled with longing and desire. That desire gets broken by an act of possible rape, and the Rowlston-Hall makes the glaring, obscene error of having the motel concierge (Amy Seimetz) bite and pop a cherry between her teeth. This is, to me, the single misstep Ma makes, and as a woman, I would think Rowlston-Hall would have treated this scene with a little more subtlety.

Ma finds herself alternating between the desert and the hotel, where she seems to undergo a gradual personality change. A baptism of sorts is the catalyst, and her hair becomes shorter, shorter still, until she emerges looking as a young man, dressed in man’s clothes. She leads the same people who inhabit the world of the motel into the pilgrimage, carrying drawers and other pieces of furniture as in a form of penitence for having diminished her. Once she makes it to the City — which turns out to be a seemingly deserted Vegas, populated only by a handful of showgirls and children, she makes her way  up what seems to be an endless stairway, crying, coughing, collapsing. We’re then introduced to what seems to be an abstract nativity, itself truly a lovely, almost ethereal moment that elevates the entire picture to a state of quiet meditation.

Ma is going to be a headscratcher for people not used to this type of cinema — it takes patience to observe without analyzing, to see Rowlson-Hall move gracefully across the camera and look at the us, the audience, with her sad, crystal blue eyes as if she were dressed in the pain and suffering of everyone. It doesn’t always work, it might even be a little weird, but I would say this is a rewarding experience for art-cinema lovers and even the curious film-goer who doesn’t mind an abstraction of the visual language.

 

ON VOD:THE AXE MURDERS OF VILISCA

 

0 out of 5 stars (0 / 5)

 

Unless you like your videos a little bit twisted as I do and get your scares off watching hundreds of “most haunted places in the US” videos, you probably won’t have a clue what Villisca means. One character in this garbage-bin horror movie even goes so far to make her point by stating that “Vilisca sounds like some weird pain medication.” Alrighty. Point taken. A little bit of intro. Vilisca is a tiny got in Iowa stuck in the middle of Omaha and Kansas City and is the site of a gruesome murder that took place in 1912 where an entire family got axed to death by an unknown assailant. To this day, no one knows who did it, even though there were numerous suspects. Back to the movie. The Axe Murders of Vilisca opens to the said event, but wouldn’t you know on a no-budget horror movie that no attempt is made to make the event look like it was in 1912. From the word go, we see a very contemporary-looking girl on the floor about to be chopped to death by the least scariest guy in the world, the guy who’s appeared in hundreds of comedies playing bumbling characters left and right, Sean Whalen. Not even the sight of his cackle and blacked-out eyes give off any sense of fear as he gets ready to raise the axe and–

Cut to the present. We’re into some exposition about a troubled pair of students, Denny and Caleb, two hot looking things who get the big idea to go ghost hunting, because that’s what happens when you live in Small Town America — you need to somehow or another get your kicks on, and what better than to see if you can capture some restless souls in the middle of the night? Of course. So off they go, not before we see some subplots develop involving two school bullies who taunt the boys and a girl named Jess who tags along. We arrive to the house, and reader, if you’ve seen the videos I mentioned, or you’ve read about the place, or even if you’ve seen pictures of the darned place you will notice that the Axe Murder House isn’t even remotely the same as the actual place. Now while sometimes I get it, maybe the director, Tony Gonzalez, thought his micro-horror indie would fly so low under the radar and its subject matter would be so obscure in an exotic way that no one would notice, but I wasn’t having any of this — I literally jumped out of my seat and went, “That is NOT the Axe Murder House! Grrr!” and continued to watch this boring mess. Nothing of note happens for a while as the threesome get their tour, but Jess hears som e faint music and gets drawn to a room. Suddenly out of nowhere — a jump scare so cheap I groaned aloud. A woman is grabbing Jess like she’s about to strangle her and asks her why she’s even in this room, etc. etc. And then, we’re back to more slow-moving stuff, more expo, not much action.

And then, night falls. Because this wouldn’t be a horror movie without the absence of light, right? As President Elect DJ Trump often stated during his campaign, “Wrong.” Oh, my God, this movie went on forever, not really giving much, characters explaining too much, sudden flashbacks to previous events, and then we’re into the two bullies at the start of the film, who through an Instagram picture Jess posts locate her at the Vilisca house and decide to pester them with dire consequences. Here is where the movie completely loses the plot, and frankly, devolves into a puddle of goo, with people getting possessed, re-possessed, attacking each other, then not, then re-enacting events, then there’s a gay kiss which was the only highlight of this terrible mess, and finally, a WTF shot that literally means nothing. I can’t begin to tell you what a cheat this movie was. It’s so bad I wanted to throw something heavy at my television, and almost did. If you want to see something scary, watch the first Amityville Horror. At least that fright fest manages to conserve the image of the house intact, and the scares are serviceable. Or go ahead and watch NuFusion or Mr Nightmare’s videos on YouTube. Those are truly hair-raising and you will wind up turning on the lights at one point to make sure nothing is with you, watching you.