DANCING WITH THE ENEMY

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MY COUSIN RACHEL
UK
Director: Roger MIchell
Runtime: 105 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading:

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Does anyone remember those haunting opening lines of Rebecca? Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It’s enough to send shivers down your back whether you’ve read the Daphne DuMaurier novel, allegedly plagiarized from Carolina Nabucco’s 1934 novel A Sucessora, or seen the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece in Gothic suspense. It also shows that perhaps this dreamy ambiguity was good for only one novel and nothing else; as a writer, DuMaurier may have had her inspirations, but she was not exactly what I would call a good writer.

Perhaps then this is the reason that Roger MIchell’s version manages to colossally misfire and land in a puddle of mud before it even has time to tell its tale. Picture this, a story in which another ambiguous line starts the wheels of the plot in motion– “Did she? Didn’t she?” — reeks of phoning in a sense of dread, the kind that by its presence and atmosphere alone should grab a hold of your stomach and apply some unsavory pressure little by little until you can’t even breathe. The person who utters that question is our hero Philip (Sam Claflin, previously seen in Their Finest), who plays the male version of Rebecca‘s X — basically a non person who tells of a childhood living wile and free with his cousin Ambrose, who then went off to Italy, and while there met and fell in love with the titular Rachel only to suddenly fall ill and die soon after the two of them were married.

So much build up is placed on these events that we feel that after Ambrose kicks the bucket, Philip will turn into some kind of raving Byronic hero of the kind fo leave even Heathcliff in the dust. He does vow revenge on Rachel, whom he suspects of murdering Ambrose, but once she arrives at Plymouth all that falls by the wayside and Philip is practically giving Rachel the benefits of the doubt and the keys to his entire estate faster than you can see 45 tweet covfefe. Once I saw this happen with frightening speed my eyebrow arched, and I went “What just happened? Can we refresh this scene, please, and play it slowly? No? Okay. ” That, my friends,  just doesn’t quite gel in a story that should be less about what is said, shown, or spoken, and more about insinuations, side glances, and especially emotions just waiting to be released, at least, for a little. It doesn’t help that Rachel Weisz is completely wrong for this film — an actress who could be more enigmatic could have been a better choice — and Sam Claflin, like I said earlier, is written rather blandly. It’s hard to care for any of this movie’s people when they themselves don’t give their own moments on screen any life. My Cousin Rachel isn’t deadly; shes just plain dullsville. Perhaps I’ll wait for Lady Macbeth — that looks like it’s got teeth.

My Cousin Rachel is still playing in theaters and arrives on DVD at the end of August.

MOKA
France / Switzerland
Director: Frederic Mermoud
Runtime:  85 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Emmanuelle Devos is a French actress that I’ve been seeing on film for the past 15 years now, and while she’s a good performer for the most part, that little girl voice of hers and that look of perpetually helpless wait begging to be rescued somewhat puts me off. It’s the sole reason I didn’t go to see Moka at the Film Forum when it premiered and waited a couple of days until it was extended for a third and final week there. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to sit in a theater listening to a woman just over 50 talking like a sex-kitten filled with angst and vulnerabilities plod her way through an intellectual thriller that someone like Isabelle Huppert could handle in her sleep without the slightest effort.

Well, dear reader, I have to say I was blown away with Devos in this little Swiss-French thriller that also paired her with acting giant Nathalie Baye. [As an interesting little note, Baye’s previous role was another barely seen French thriller in which she played the Devos role.] Moka starts with the image of Devos (who plays a woman named Diane) silently banging her head against a window. We don’t know where she is, until the camera pans away and we realize she’s in some sort of mental facility. And then the cards that plant the seeds of the plot get revealed: Diane has lost her son Luc in a freak accident where he was fatally involved in a hit-and-run. Since then, time and basically everything has stopped for Diane. Because the perpetrators were never brought to justice, Diane has hired a private investigator to find out about the vehicle that killed her son. She learns that it was a mocha-colored car registered to a woman who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The woman happens to be Marlene (Baye). Marlene is the owner of a beauty salon, and from the moment both women meet there is a sense of uneasiness in the air. But Diane has other plans, and so does the story: while she is befriending (and getting to know Marlene), she’s also flirting with Marlene’s boyfriend Michel who is selling the mocha vehicle, and at the same time, she also establishes a tentative friendship with Marlene’s daughter from a previous relationship.  To add to the whole situation, Diane has met a guy who does deals on the darkside and produces a gun for her, and as a final nail, Diane’s husband eventually appears on stage wondering what has happened to her. Sounds complicated? It’s because it is, and director Mermoud wastes no time in getting into the meat of the action while allowing it to breathe and develop on its own. We wonder where is all this going and how long can Diane keep her charade alive without recurring to cheap solutions. Devos plays Diane as a relentless avenger, but with enough frailty and vulnerability that we wonder if she will carry out her affairs in Lausanne until the end. Baye, her hair bleached a cheap, older woman peroxide blonde, is prickly, suspicious from the get-go, but all reception. She’s a beautician, so she hears stories from her clients, and Diane’s doesn’t ring totally true. Even so, she lets her slowly in and we wonder if there isn’t some agenda . . . or is she being set up for something terrible.

It’s not often that movies feature strong women in leading roles playing complicated characters that dance around each other like samurais waiting to strike. Moka is a complex psycho drama that touches on the topics of grief and loss and the need to mete out personal justice without turning it into exploitation and offers enough twists and turns and even an emotional finale to out-guess aficionados of the thriller genre and leave them satisfied.

THE HERO

Sam Elliott defies death in The Hero.

THE HERO
USA
Director: Brett Haley
Runtime: 93 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Superstardom somehow eluded him, and yet he’s still remembered as the lanky, grizzled cowboy from the 80s and 90s with the deep, resonant voice and powerful presence. A twist of irony now brings Sam Elliott back on the big screen in this intimate narrative as Lee Hayden, a man well past his prime, who’s become nearly forgotten as an actor who once had a huge hit movie in the 70s called “The Hero”, a picture that has since earned him a cult following. Now, older, withdrawn, divorced from his artist wife Valerie (a much welcomed appearance by real-life wife Katharine Ross), estranged from his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter), he spends time building pipe dreams with his neighbor and former co-star in a TV series, Jeremy Frost (Nick Offerman), a one-time promising actor who now sells drugs and does little else but collect old movies.

A call to appear in an obscure awards show that caters to actors who have starred in Westerns to receive a lifetime achievement award brings Lee back into the spotlight and into the attention of stand up comedian Charlotte (Laura Prepon), an occasional user who’s also one of Jeremy’s clients and has an attraction to older men. While accepting his award (and under some happy pills to coast the evening, thanks to Charlotte), Lee goes viral and begins to trend. Calls to audition for parts in big-budget movies start appearing, but Lee has serious doubts of his own self — plus, ever since the doctor diagnosed him with a dangerous form of cancer, and sensing time is closing in on him, it starts to affect him in ways he couldn’t have imagined. An attempt to rekindle with Lucy doesn’t go as planned, and he wonders where is this new relationship with Charlotte going.

I may have become a bit cynical because the cancer (or potentially fatal-disease) storyline has been done to pieces (and with much success among female-centric audiences looking for a good cry, but The Hero fires on all cylinders with the expertise of a grizzled gunslinger with a few surprises still underneath his sleeve. Never once does the story wring any emotion from you using his disease — a plus for me. In fact, Sam Elliott’s performance alone is solid gold. Here’s a man at the twilight of his years, a loner, quiet, not much of a husband it seems (a thing that he owns), even less of a father, drifting on old fame from a bygone era. The cancer-diagnosis turns up as a catalyst — but to an extent — to shake Lee up a little, make him dust himself off and see what repairs he might still be able to perform. Charlotte, a character that could have been written off as a one-scene only performance, grows on Lee in unexpected ways and boy, can Prepon bring in a grounded performance. In the end, however, this is a moving portrait of a man lost at sea trying to find his way back and perhaps, extend his chances at a second shot at life, if at all for a few. Highly recommended.

The Hero continues its run in NYC at the Village East as it moves into its second month in theaters. Go see it.

THE BEGUILED

THE BEGUILED
USA
Director: Sofia Coppola
Runtime: 93 minutes
Language: English

Grade: A+

There’s a reason Sofia Coppola won Best Director at Cannes this year. Her newest movie, The Beguiled, featuring actors at the top of their game in an escalating battle of wits and female one-upmanship, is a muscular, minimal, bare-bones rendition of the 1966 novel by Thomas Cullinen. Coppola’s approach, however, differs greatly from the source in that it refuses to take the Southern Gothic route and strips away all of the excess material, reducing the story to that of its bare essentials: an enigmatic, handsome stranger, and the women who are dying for his attention.

You can practically feel the pages whizzing by in Coppola’s ultra-compact version: her Beguiled flies by at a solid pace. From the word go we’re introduced to the situation at hand: Amy (Oona Laurence), a student and resident at an all-girl’s school run by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), comes upon an injured Yankee soldier, an Irishman named John McBurney (Colin Farell) who is basically a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Not wanting to leave the man out in the elements to face certain death she brings him to the school where the reluctant teachers — but particularly Miss Martha — tend to his injuries and necessities and give him shelter until he is healthy enough to leave on his own.

While he recovers, McBurney, in a manner so subtle it could almost be missed, starts to affect the women as they gradually find themselves fawning over his presence that, albeit crippled, offers a masculine counterpoint, a chance of water in the middle of the desert. To Martha, he’s a possible partner; to Edwina, a means to an escape; to Alicia (Elle Fanning, wickedly good), a sexual awakening, and to the younger girls, an older friend who listens (although Ii will say I kept thinking there was a slight predatory nature to McBurney’s conversation with Amy.

However their fragile acquaintance can’t last too long, and Coppola manages to keep your eyes riveted onto the screen, waiting for something to happen. And reader, does Coppola deliver. When the carefully constructed facade of harmony gets shattered after a well-timed discovery, pretty much the bets are off, and The Beguiled reveals its fangs that had been up to them carefully hidden. Even then it maintains a drum-tight control over its story, carefully avoiding too much exposition (which works  better in plays) and reaches a denouement that could be considered lyrical. This is an excellent, perfect thriller that keeps its passions under a tight management and the appearance of female decorum.

ON DVD: LIFE

LIFE
USA
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Runtime:103 minutes
Language: English

Grade: B+

When Life came out I stayed away believing the critics and those who ‘know cinema’ that this was a pile of dreck dressed in sleek science-fiction, a cheap monster picture with an all-star cast that was barely a poor man’s Alien. Now that it’s begun its second life on DVD I can view it, and state my opinion: I don’t call this site mostlyindies for anything; once in a while I will venture out of my league, sit back, sip something soothing, and let Big Budget assault me with whatever it has. And I have to say, Life is nothing that I expected. If anything, Life is quite the solid little chiller.

Which is not to say it’s an instant classic, but did anyone really thing that for example, Fantastic Voyage was ever going for anything other than special effects and Raquel Welch’s torpedo boobs? Of course not. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, buy that cheap little potboiler that is sitting on the shelf at your newsstand, and read the heck out of it not expecting anything  but solid entertainment and Daniel Espinoza’s Life is pregnant with it. You know the drill: space mission en route to some distant part of our space encounters Something Miraculous — in this case, a cell similar to what we have seen on our own Mother Earth — that well, proves to have a life of its own, pun intended. Let’s just say that whatever happens from the moment that this little cell gets discovered very well seals the fate of the entire crew and again, Life does not disappoint (even when, despite the bloodshed, it keeps the nasty levels of gore to a bare minimum).

What Life does have going for it is suspense and a muscular plot that does not stop for tangents or even character ruminations. Okay, perhaps once it did, but who really took notice? Did you? Not me — I was at the edge of my seat anxiously awaiting when the Next Big Thing would happen and boy, did this movie deliver! Perhaps it’s almost too predictable for its own good — I mean, is it any surprise that this life form that suddenly springs into action when rudely awakened from its slumber with an electric prod no less will eventually turn  the tables on the cast and reduce them to brisket? Is it any shock to see that the law of economy, in which a cast of about six or seven gets reduced to basically two, and the last to go are  always, invariably, white/Caucasian? Who didn’t see the deaths of the more ethnic people coming? Was anyone surprised? With the exception of a certain cast member, who decided to take a small part because of scheduling conflicts, it pretty much went as expected without deflating, and I think that says a lot about Espinoza. So, good on him and the movie’s creators for this slice of delicious visual pizza because it worked on all aspects and didn’t let up one bit, down to the very end.

BEATRIZ AT DINNER

BEATRIZ AT DINNER
USA
Director: Miguel Arteta
Runtime: 83 minutes
Language: English

Grade: C

There is no train wreck that garners more schadenfreude tan the one revolving around a dinner table. You just know that at one point, hidden agendas are going to come into the light, people will behave in less than amicable ways, tensions will escalate, a battle of wills will explode in violence, and someone will wind up with their heart and soul destroyed, never to be the same again. This, reader, is exactly what more or less happens in Miguel Arteta’s dark comedy of manners Beatriz at Dinner, and from the onset it promises that it will deliver all those guilty pleasures courtesy from the wonderful genre that is the comedy of discomfort to near appalling degrees. [If you see the trailer, you know what I’m talking about.]

So why did I walk out of the movie so completely disappointed?

For the most part, Beatriz at Dinner plays by the rules almost to a fault. It’s as predictable as sunrise, which in a way is good and fine by me. Beatriz receives a rather oblique introduction — first by a vision she has of an unknown person paddling along a placid river, a pastoral scene suddenly interrupted by the image of a white goat trapped in mud, bleating. We soon learn that Beatriz is a woman that is in a lot of pain — not physical, but spiritual, and Salma Hayek reflects this so beautifully well in her deep, bottomless eyes encased in the crinkles of a woman who has seen and experienced the pain of the world. She works in bodywork, does reiki, but it seems to bring her nothing but more and more sadness.

Beatriz is called on to perform some reiki to a rich client living in an exclusive gated community overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  It turns out, the woman, Cathy (Connie Britton), is the mother of a girl that Beatriz took care of while she battled cancer. Once Beatriz’s massage services are rendered, she prepares to leave, but her car — a broken down, tired old thing — won’t start. Cathy, who is soon to host a party for friends, a party that it turns out is really more of a thank you to one of the attendees for helping Cathy and her husband Grant (David Warshovsky) secure a deal that will bring in giant sums of money, kind of would rather Beatriz leave but reluctantly and against Grant’s wishes decides to have her sit with them at dinner.

Not only is Beatriz ill-suited to be anywhere near this party, but boy is she out of her element. The guests — all cartoon one percenters played to superficial perfection by John Lithgow, Amy Landecker, Chloe Sevigny, and Jay Duplass — arrive. Not a single one has any idea the New Age drivel that Beatriz suddenly throws at them with the deep sadness of a Debbie Downer. and at one early point the guest of honor, Doug Strutt (Lithgow), a mogul who’s blithely discussing titles for his memoirs, one of them titled “This Can’t End Well,” mistakes Beatriz for the help. Bad move: from this point on Beatriz and Strutt begin circling each other, both feeling the other out. Beatriz is certain she knows Strutt (and she’s not totally mistaken; Strut reveals he has real estate in Beatriz’s home country, a thing that brings out painful memories where Beatriz witnessed firsthand the terrible consequences that Strutt’s business ventures left).

From here on you expect things to escalate and while they certainly do, it seems that right at the moment when something Big is about to happen between Strutt and Beatriz who share a lot more than just being two ships crossing each other in the night — a thing that could ripple onto the other guests — the movie somehow stops short. If anything, having Beatriz be the one to lose control of her own actions early on when she makes the mistake of seeing Strutt’s cell phone’s picture of him lording over a safari hunt accidentally tips the power exchange to the man we love to hate and leaves her out to dry and nurse her wounds. You see, Strutt hasn’t been painted to be such a horrible guy even though he does say some truly awful things here and there. Lithgow makes the man too likeable. Adding to that, Hayek is resolute in making her Beatriz nothing less than a saint martyr ready to commit anything to drive her anguish through these vapid people’s heads.

This particular way of drawing two characters seems way too literal for today’s times and Beatriz’s waxing poetic about longing for better times takes you out of the now and into a different movie, Lithgow’s reasoning, as horrible as it is, somehow gels. I would have wanted for there to be stronger dialogue where both parties really engaged in a battle of wills, starting off at a subtle point and ending in nothing less than carnage. That would have made the events that transpire towards the resolution of Beatriz at Dinner easier to swallow. However, and I’m in danger of spoiling the movie, a last-minute detour into nothing short of crazy virtually makes no sense and comes out of nowhere other than the need to transform Beatriz into a martyr. This is where I closed my eyes and thought about other movies — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Rope, or the recently seen The Dinner — where instead of copping out, the characters in these stories went right for the darkside and stayed there. This is a film with committed performances that painted itself into a corner and then had no clue how to make its way out.

DEAN

DEAN
USA
Director: Demetri Martin
Runtime: 87 minutes
Language: English

B

It’s nothing short of surprising how far Woody Allen’s influence in indie cinema has reached. Because of him we now have several observant New York film directors doing rather well in creating movies that tell, in an economic 90 minutes, a slice of life of a New Yorker going through some kind of trauma, while always maintaining a solid sense of humor. Demetri Martin, an actor and director whose work I barely know, debuted last year at the Tribeca Film Festival with this cute little comedy about grief as told through the mind and imagination of Martin’s alter-ego Dean, a successful comic book artist who continually evokes the Grim Reaper in almost everything he draws (which is almost all the time — and he shows his illustrations, often which provide a nice dose of humor to make a point).

After the death of his mother, Dean finds himself in a rut unable to create and has just broken up with his girlfriend. He’s also at an emotional crossroad with his father (played by Kevin Kline in a subtle turn) who has decided to sell the house and move into a smaller space. In an impulse he travels clear across the country, lands in LA, meets some cool hipsters, among them a girl (Gillian Jacobs, last seen in Don’t Think Twice) who is all but perfect . . . which is part of the problem.  Dean is one of these barely there movies that really need to be seen to witness an incisive slice of life that attempts to portray the awkwardness of moving through life while trying to pick up the pieces left behind. This is a solid debut from a young director who has a keen ear for sharp dialogue along with pretty good performances by its mainly young cast (although Mary Steenburgen also manages to breathe life into her rather wispy, brief role as Kline’s real estate agent with whom he tentatively starts a relationship with.

IT COMES AT NIGHT

IT COMES AT NIGHT
USA
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Runtime: 91 minutes
Language: English

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Some Great Thinker once quoted, “Hell is other people.” Trey Edward Shults’ second feature after last year’s domestic drama Krisha doesn’t stray too far from its domestic roots, but plunges its central family into a horror that can only be called Hell on Earth. We don’t know what happened, or didn’t happen, or how things came to be as they are when the movie starts, but the world of It Comes At Night seems to have nosedived into complete societal chaos. Something is out there killing everyone it comes in contact with, and you have a chance to do two things: live by your own selfish wits or die. It is as simple, as brutal as that.

As a matter of fact, it’s so brutal that the film’s opening sequence is probably should set the tone for what we’re about to see: a family, wearing protective gas masks and gloves, gently but with an undertone of steely determination, lifting an old man with festering boils on his skin off from a bed and onto some sheets. The family — Sarah (Carmen Ejogo),  Paul (Joel Edgerton), and Travis (Kelvin Harrison), then drag the moaning older man out into the woods, away from their house’s vicinity, throw him into an open grave, to where Paul proceeds to shoot the man point blank in the head using a pillow to mask the sound. We soon learn this was Sarah’s father, who contracted the feared virus. They return back to the house. Welcome to the New Normal.

Silence and isolation can’t, of course, continue for long, Someone breaks into their house believing it to be empty. Paul is more than ready to kill the intruder, who turns out to be Will (Christopher Abbott), a man with a wife and young son who’s been walking for 50 miles or so to find shelter and food, and after holding him hostage and at the mercy to the elements and whatever is making people sick, and at Sarah’s urging, he decides to accompany Will to search for his family and bring them back to the house, a task that doesn’t come without dangers — since now the law of the land is pure lawlessness.

Once both families come together, the tension eases only for a few scenes, but when one of Will’s stories doesn’t quite check out, Paul immediately reminds Sarah and Travis that they can, no matter how much they’d like to, trust anyone. This turns out to be a problem for Travis, who’s only 17 and strangely drawn to the new family (especially Will’s wife played by Riley Keough) while having stress nightmares of his own which seem to be eroding at his own sanity. And the sheer claustrophobic nature of this house doesn’t help matters. While outside shots indicate the house can fit well above six people, all we get are narrow as fuck hallways lit only by battery operated lamps and deeply shadowed rooms offering no warmth and a lot of enhanced paranoia.

As a matter of fact, the entire movie is a claustrophobic nightmare — the woods seem to creep towards you, roads are winding and sinister, and even daylight can’t seem to bring any sort of comfort. You can almost feel eyes all over the place, watching you from a distance, ready to pounce.

So, what is it that comes at night? We never truly know, and again, this is my kind of horror — the type that firstly, never tries to explain itself too much (although we do get a brief glimpse at a painting by Brueghel which drives the collapse of humanity home. Secondly, it is nihilistic to a fault. Every character is living solely out for there bare survival. Innocence has checked out, hope is merely a word, and even smiles on a face look furtive and nervous, and there is that awful door at the end of the hallway that Shults keeps panning towards and through. I’ve never seen anything like this, and it alone gave me chills.

I like my horror as esoteric as it can be — no Annabelle for me (It was shown as one of the coming attractions and I’ll gladly skip it’s sudden flourish of shrieking sound and the doll’s jerky movements, thank you). Nothing is as horrific as what man can do to another man through the terrors that live within his mind, and to be honest, This remarkable film comes at the perfect time in Trump’s governance, where society risks on becoming a savage rendition of every man for himself and kill anything that may seem to be a threat. If you don’t walk out of the theater with a knot to your stomach, then you must be a psychopath.

It Comes At Night opens in wife release June 9.

SWEET SWEET LONELY GIRL

SWEET SWEET LONELY GIRL
USA
Director: A. D. Calvo
Runtime: 76 minutes
Language: English

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

What is it about fragile young women and old Victorian mansions with windows so menacing they almost look as though they have an evil intelligence that goes so well together in the makings of Gothic horror? I’ll only guess that it has to be the fact that someone less impressionable might not be as ripe for a gradual possession as someone more withdrawn and in-tune with their inner lives and what only they themselves can see, but what do I know? Ultimately, however, what haunts Adele (Erin Wilhelmi) is not the supernatural, but her own aching loneliness — she’s been sent to care for her aging aunt Dora (Sally Kellerman), a woman who’s become a complete and utter recluse, who’s left Adele a series of notes with instructions as to the management of the house and groceries written in handwriting so ornate as to seem from another time completely. Adele, none too happy with her situation, complies, not without a faint sense of “why me”.

And then she bumps into Beth (Quinn Shephard). The two girls could not be more dissimilar. While Adele is as waifish as they come, with long, golden hair parted severely in the middle and landing in exact geometric length halfway down her back, Beth is darker, more assertive, and worldly. The two take a liking to each other that seems almost too perfect to be true . . . fated, if you will. And  yet, the story moves along at its own pace, letting these two women breathe, share stories, experiences, and information that is vital to the bond that seems to be getting stronger between them. In the meantime, any attempt to reconnect with Aunt Dora goes unfulfilled–it seems as though something terrible has transpired in a time and a place before Adele was even born, yet has trickled down upon her head like an inherited crown of thorns.

But, back to the relationship between Beth and Adele. Because this is a horror movie — slow burn, creepy as all get out and with a palette completely drained of life, making even its bright 70s colors seem dusty and remote — it’s inevitable that whatever the two get into will not end well, and I really don’t want to give too much away because . . . well, you have to see it for yourself. If you get references as wide and varied as Robert Wise’s The Haunting of Hill House, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and made-for-television fare such as Burnt Offerings in which a house seems to turn its people into something darker, you will enjoy Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl. The three actresses are perfect in their roles — with both Shephard and Wilhelmi complementing each other to near perfection, and Kellerman making the most of her barely-there scenes. I won’t call it a masterpiece — it’s certainly not — but it’s a work that pays homage to a kind of horror that was more rising dread and what-the-fuck endings that were quite common for a time in the 60s and 70s and have since been making a slow but steady comeback with films like The Witch, The Duke of Burgundy, Darling, and The Eyes of My Mother.

Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl is currently playing at Shudder.

BAND AID

BAND AID
USA
Director: Zoe Lister-Jones
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Ever since Cassavetes and Bergman tackled their versions of marriage on the rocks in their now excellent dramas Faces and Scenes from a Marriage I’ve been waiting for a movie that at least attempts to approximate what it is that can make a marriage work even when it seems that, from the word go, it’s doomed to fail at every turn. Come have come close, some have slightly missed the mark, and that’s okay. In her first feature film, Zoe Lister-Jones (currently seen in Life in Pieces) basically becomes a one-woman show as director, writer, producer, lead actress, and lead musical performer, in a deceptively comic film about a couple caught in a rut  she holds nothing back: Anna (herself) and Ben (the totally gorgeous Adam Pally  who looks more and more like Joaquin Phoenix without the excessive brooding looks) are at each other’s throats over who gets to do the dishes. It’s an every day situation that anyone who’s been involved with another person can relate to: that point where even the slightest tick can set off a firestorm of comments that escalate and turn nasty, usually devolving the entire thing into a litany of “fuck yous” that basically erode away at the glue that would keep a couple together.

But before we get into the story, a a little back story gets thrown in about who these two people are. That’s essential, because that is precisely what shapes the fabric of LIster-Jones’ sharp observation about a couple facing the death of their relationship. Ben has had trouble keeping a job due to his personality and is more than happy to stay home and be “wife”. Anna, on the other hand, is a little more complex than that. Once upon a time she had Book Deal (and I’m not being too on the nose when capitalizing this event in Anna’s life). The Book Deal didn’t fall through; she’s been wallowing in barely suppressed self-pity while observing her other friends lead apparently Successful Lives and making ends meet as an Uber driver.

Somewhere down the line both Anna and Ben come across the revelation that perhaps they could use music to fill the void that their angst as a couple is creating. It’s no secret that most successful bands have used their personal turmoil to create some truly memorable songs,  and while it seems that Anna and Ben register hit some sharp notes while coming up with some songs in the alternative/punk style, just when they’re about to hit it big, Anna seems to be doing this with the expectation of securing some sort of greater compensation — a record deal, perhaps? — and finally make her mark in the world. Other heretofore issues that had been deftly placed in the background suddenly come to the surface, old pains materialize and bleed raw with emotion, and it seems that these ghosts that will not die might take a toll after all on this adorable couple.

I really don’t want to say more about Band Aid — it is that good, and mind you, this is a movie shot with next to no ‘style’, no flair other than a documentary-like feel, a sense of cinema verite perhaps, and Lister-Jones and Pally’s wonderful, electric performances that almost jump off the screen and sit right next to you. If you want to see what an unscripted marriage looks like, with all its ups and downs, moments of hilarity, awkwardness, sudden desire, sudden hatred for each other, hatred stemming out of deep, unresolved pathos, this is the movie to watch and it’s one of the breakouts for this year in my opinion. Watch for Fred Armisen, Brooklyn Decker, Colin Hanks, and Susie Essmann in small, but scene-stealing roles.

Band Aid is currently playing at the IFC in NYC and will be released on VOD platforms June 9th. Go see it.

ON VOD: THE VOID

THE VOID
Canada
Director: Jeremy Gillespie / Steven Kostanski
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Horror is becoming fashionable retro and I like it! Gone and seeping into the background to make a quick buck and be forgotten are the bloated miseries of the likes of Annabelle and Exorcist rip-offs, no more do we see found footage horror movies with the same anticipation as when Paranormal Activity took that genre into a new territory (and subsequently ripped it to shreds). Thanks to SXSW, Fantastic Fest, and late night sections on Tribeca, Cannes, and Sundance, now we’re getting edgier material that doesn’t shy away from bringing the type of horror that made franchises back into the world of indie film-malking.

Case in point, this little-known movie that swam in several film festivals before making it to its perfunctory, one-week theatrical run at Cinema Village (as it also saw its release in VOD platforms). The Void doesn’t have any lofty aspirations than to tell a slick, tense horror story in a muscular 90 minutes of screen time, and it basically recreates everything you came to love about 80s horror movies, (many which had their own franchises that occasionally still pop up in video), and if you like your gore to the wall, your half-seen creatures alive with tentacles all over the place, and a completely surreal turn that only someone like Sam Raimi in his heyday would have produced without a shred of irony and a wink of an eye, then this one’s for you.

The Void starts with a bang — a shocking scene of violence that starts with two vigilantes and ends with one woman going up in flames. We don’t know much else, but we cut to an officer on duty (Aaron Poole) talking to his girlfriend (Kathleen Munroe) who encounters a badly injured man crawling along the road. He drives the man to the nearby hospital that apparently, must be run on a skeleton crew of a handful, but I’m not here to nit-pick. It doesn’t take long for hospital personnel to subdue the injured man who is in a frenzy (and might be on drugs, it seems), but there are other forces at work . . . and they’re about to zero in on this hospital and literally, in the most Lovecraftian sense, unleash hell.

The Void is a pretty solid horror movie that even with its limited budget doesn’t crack under the pressure and manages to deliver some visceral shocks and neat plot twists as it plunges towards its very dark abyss. Lovers of the aforementioned master of the weird, Stephen King at his goriest, and references to Clive Barker will have a hoot with this one, especially when the directors pull out all the stops and show just how good they are in not only building up a terrific sense of suspense with some clever editing, but more importantly, showing the thing that’s been hiding in the dark for who knows how long. Recommended.