Review: OFFICIAL SECRETS

OFFICIAL SECRETS. Country: UK / USA. Director: Gavin Hood. Screenwriters: Gavin Hood, Gregory Bernstein, Sara Berstein. Based on the book by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion.” Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, MyAnna Buring, Adam Bakri, Tasmin Greig. Language, English. Runtime: 112 minutes. Release Date: August 30, 2019. Venue, IFC Center. Mostly Indies rating: are online classes a good idea essay azithromycin dihydrate zithromax https://dsaj.org/buyingmg/accutane-negatives/200/ Cialis online store get link define working thesis statement writing a business proposal watch what is the use of viagra in women go write scholarship essay writing a service proposal critical thinking in science viagra side efects food technology coursework gcse writing a discussion section of a research paper essay on favourite colour white source url go to link get link https://rainierfruit.com/cialis-generic-online-uk/ 20 levitra mg about essay thesis format university of calgary https://bigsurlandtrust.org/care/viagra-online-paypal-payments/20/ see go https://dsaj.org/buyingmg/vad-r-viagra-piller/200/ https://medpsychmd.com/nurse/old-viagra-pills/63/ https://sigma-instruments.com/viagra-find-a-doctor-10135/ https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/movabletype/papers/argumentative-essay-hook.html https://www.nationalautismcenter.org/letter/cover-letter-for-university-professor/26/ B+

You probably never heard of the backstory that became Gavin Hood’s latest incursion into political wars, the movie Official Secrets. At the time, I was constantly glued to CNN and other news media outlets and barely heard a peep into it (at least on this side of the pond) and any news item coming from the UK may have been during the late nights, or through BBC America. In short, the true story of Official Secrets concerns the whistleblower actions of Katharine Gun, a Mandarin-Chinese translator working for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), who in early 2003 came across an email (as did her entire unit) sent by Frank Koza, chief of the NSA, That email, which normally would have vanished into the agency’s intranet, traveled much farther than originally intended. It essentially requested GCHQ to conduct a secret (and illegal) eavesdropping on six non permanent members of the United Nations — among them Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan — to monitor their reaction to the debate on Iraq. The reason for this was because these “swing” nations were critical for the push for the war against Iraq.

Katharine’s reaction to the email is equal parts horror and outrage. Taking a printed copy of the email home with her, she gives it to a friend (MyAnna Barling) who later on passes it on, where it lands as an article in The Observer and into the hands of journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith) who conducts a research to see if email mentioned in the article is valid. When that becomes the case, the paper publishes the email; however, the US Government is able to deny any involvement. Meanwhile at GCHQ, tensions are mounting as every employee is being interrogated. Knowing that she must do the right thing, She admits to being the one who leaked the email, gets arrested, and sees her life start to fall apart around her as she must now seek to defend her actions while her Kurdish husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) also faces the pressure and threat to be deported.

Movies involving whistleblowers are always fascinating because they portray the almost archetypical conflicted person going against tradition and raising their hand to uncover the man behind the curtain. As far back as All The Kings Horses, and most recently, as The Post, they always, invariably, make for compelling storytelling, stellar acting, and in creating an atmosphere of pure paranoia that often threatens to swallow the characters whole. After all, we live in a world where we now know to the extent that the powers that be may seek to influence those in key positions to steer nations as if they were prized vehicles into a pre-packaged outcome. Official Secrets is a tense as fuck expose story with compelling performances by Keira Knightley (for once not doing a period piece), Matt Smith, and Ralph Fiennes as Ben Emmerson. Stick to the end to see the real Katharine Gun speaking out after she is exonerated by the British Court.

Issa Lopez’s Dark Fantasy TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Siempre Vuelven). Country, Mexico. Director: Issa Lopez. Screenwriter: Issa Lopez. Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramon Lopez, Hansel Castillas, Rodrigo Cortes, Danis Guerrero, Tenoch Huerta. Release Date: August 21, 2019. VOD availability: Shudder. Runtime: 80 minutes.

Mostly Indies:

On the heels of having seen Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles comes Issa Lopez, a director whose work I am not familiar with but who seems to have borrowed a leaf from the nihilism ever present in some of the Spanish director’s Mexican work during the 50s. Her movie Tigers Are Not Afraid might be playing at an arthouse theater near you but you can catch it via Shudder, and I highly recommend it. It is a dark fable, a fantasy about a young girl, the symbolically named Estrella (Paola Lara), who starts the movie by barely surviving a school shooting. Her reaction, however, proves to be chilling: these are children who have grown accustomed to a life of ever present violence, It has become so rampant that she seems to have toughened up her grit. As long as she has her mother, she will be fine.

Except that she doesn’t; Estrella’s mother has disappeared and in the middle of this senseless violence Estrella makes a wish to see her again. The scene where she sits down in her living room, alone, no food on the table, is heart-breaking. I dare you to watch this one scene without feeling a pain in your heart. Estrella, who’s become the latest victim of gang violence, cannot yet grasp the severity of her own situation. It’s only when a nocturnal scare following a visit with echoes of Hamlet’s father sends Estrella into the streets seeking refuge in a gang of boys led by El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez), that her eyes finally wake up.

However, the boys could not care less for her — a girl could place them in evidence to the Huasca gang whom they fear, and who are hunting them down. Only when El Shine has Estrella prove her bravery does the gang take her in. Even so, the kids wander a destroyed city, squatting in abandoned homes, trying to survive at the base level while avoiding detection.

Issa Lopez has constructed a story that is at times difficult to watch with its depictions of innocence defiled through trauma and an ever present sense that there is no escaping this hell. In many ways these are the same children that I saw in Monos, another movie in which youth has been perverted by powers that serve anarchy. Both movies depict realities that are strikingly similar to one another: in Colombia, there are child soldiers; in Mexico, there are children left homeless in places like the nameless city that seems a relic of itself. The use of the fantastical, so present in magic realism, acclimates itself rather well to chilling effect in Tigers Are Not Afraid. I like Lopez’s voice and look forward to seeing more of her in the future..

The Perplexing Love Affair of vita & virginia

VITA & VIRGINIA. Country: Ireland – UK. Director: Chanya Button. Screenwriter: Eileen Atkins, based on letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Cast: Elizabeth Debicki, Gemma Arterton, Isabella Rossellini. Language: English. Release Date: August 23, 2019. Runtime: 110 minutes. Venue: Quad Cinema.

Movie:

I’m sitting here s bit at a loss of words. While I love the topic of movies based on the somewhat libertine writers from the beginning of the last century — who today would not be a bit out of place between swingers and pansexuals — the somewhat stilted while gorgeous looking (and badly titled) Vita & Virginia arrives a bit dead in the water. Sure, it has an elegant look that is equal parts Merchant-Ivory at their gayest (think Maurice) and equal parts anything you would see come Massterpiece Theatre. The problem is, that the movie is being marketed as the “fascinating love story between socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West and the now celebrated Virginia Woolf”.

Reader, I am going to say that Vita & Virginia is not anything vaguely fascinating, or sexy, or sensual, certainly not even tawdry. I would have tolerated tawdry, sordid, if in fact these two women had had such a relationship. [They did not.] I’m a bit… disappointed that Eileen Atkins would take the letters of both Sackville-West and Woolf and use this as the sole basis for the entire movie. In this approach, Atkins’ script turns the love affair between the women into a series of awkward meets where the extroverted and assertive Vita (played boldly by Gemma Arterton), upon seeing the alluring but distant Virginia at a party, decides she has to have her. Her husband, Henry Nicolson (Rupert Henry-Jones), also bisexual (although it’s not central to the plot or real life events), warns, “She’s rather hard work,” He’s not wrong.

Virginia Woolf as played by Elizabeth Debicki comes across as a woman that is so withdrawn she could be mistaken for her own shadow. Perhaps the real Virginia Woolf was in fact, this introverted — she certainly had some psychological damage done to her as a child, which informed her of her own adult experiences and was also bipolar. When we see her, we truly wonder what it was that would have attracted the likes of someone as sophisticated as Vita to someone diametrically different to her as Virginia. And nowhere does the movie or the script delve into the aspects of this on again off again love affair that eventually morphed into a lifelong friendship that pushed both women to create the best of their literary work.

This is a shame; I would have wanted to see more bonding, more density, more gravity to the friendship and the love between both women. As it is, the movie prefers to remain in a watery stance, lovely to look at, at times a bit staid, narrating a love affair through tight closeups of eyes and lips, peppered in a weird electronic soundtrack completely inappropriate for this movie and where both women produced some of their strongest literary work, Even Woolf’s own Orlando gets muddled into a stiff production that really never comes alive. That would have been a novel within letters within a cinematic treat!

BUNUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF THE TURTLES, a Documentary rendered in lovely animation

BUNUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF THE TURTLES (Bunuel en el laberinto de las tortugas). Country, Spain – Netherlands – Germany. Director: Salvador Simo. Screenwriters: Eligio Montero, Salvador Simo, Fermin Solis. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Fermin Solis. Language: Spanish, French. Cast: Jorge Uson, Fernando Ramos, Luis Enrique de Tomas, Cyril Corral, Pepa Gracia, Gabriel Latorre. Runtime, 80 minutes. Venue: Quad Cinema.

Mostly Indies rating:

If you’re in the mood for a different kind of movie, and find this obscure little gem playing in an arthouse theater near you, go see it before it disappears. Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a rarity in animation, a reimagination If you will of Luis Bunuel’s fall from intellectual and cinematic grace following the release of his 1930 movie L’Age D’Or, a film now regarded as a classic entry in Surrealist cinema and a direct companion to his breakout film Un Chien Andalou, and his return to critical acclaim following his Surrealist documentary Las Hurdes: Tierra sin pan (Land Without Bread).

After L’Age D’Or, which causes a massive scandal and destroys Bunuel’s friendship with Salvador Dali, Bunuel finds himself unable to secure a single project and faces financial ruin. Luck intervenes on Bunuel’s behalf when he finds himself making a documentary based on Maurice Legendre’s study of the people of Las Hurdes and using the funds from a winning lottery ticket that his friend, anarchist Ramon Acin, plays. Upon Bunuel and his crew’s arrival to Las Hurdes, the men cannot but be impressed with the sheer level of abject poverty the people live in, Houses packed against each other, roofs resembling the scales of a turtle (hence he film’s title), the village is a maze of ins and outs with no discernible order.

They learn about how the village survives (by getting a government check for every orphan given), and a moving scene involves Bunuel surrounding himself with the children of Las Hurdes, all wide eyed, innocent, begging for attention, As the men start filming establishing shots, Bunuel comes across a sick girl who due to the village’s own isolation has no chance to survive. Filming continues, Bunuel experiences nightmares in which he faces a forbidding father and a loving but remote mother, and somehow, Bunuel’s own need to shock soon reveals itself when he employs staging to construct a narrative of the people of Las Hurdes.

Scenes of the actual documentary make their way into he movie, often with disturbing effect on the animated narrative. An early sequence shows Bunuel directing the beheading of a rooster; another one, a donkey being overpowered by bees and stung to death, All have a direct relation to Bunuel’s obsession with death, and culminate in the now famous sequence of goats leaping off steep cliffs, a feat that has now been considered was achieved by Bunuel’s crew shooting at the goats to scare them to jump.

It’s a bit hard to like Bunuel in this movie because he as a person is so difficult — eager to antagonize in the name of controversy, callous at times to the suffering of the very people whom he is flatly exploiting. At least, the movie does not try to lionize Bunuel as a man who could do no wrong, so at least this keeps the picture shrouded in a cloak of authenticity. Often dreamlike, sometimes confounding, this is a well-told story of the forgotten people, but mostly about a director trying to find his own purpose and step out of Dali’s shadow, For those of us who know Bunuel’s body of work, it’s safe to say, he succeeded. If only the young Bunuel would have known this, but then, we wouldn’t have a movie, wouldn’t we?

Meet the Relatives: the Game that is READY OR NOT

Meet the family….

READY OR NOT. Country, USA. Directors: Matt Bettinelly-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. Screenwriters: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy. Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie McDowell, Nicky Guadagni. Language: English. Runtime: 95 minutes. Venue: AMC 25.

Mostly Indies rating:

I’m fairly confident that someone in this writer-director team had to sit down, think on a follow up to Southbound, and see what stuck. My guess is that someone probably jokingly said, “Hey, imagine if you got married, right? And on your wedding night you discover that your entire family wants to kill you?”

And to be fair, I’m sure it is funny albeit dark of course if you decide to go all the way and make an entire film revolving on one family’s attempts to off the unlucky spouse in rather gruesome ways (and often needing YouTube tutorials to demo how you would use your weapon of choice). I myself, liked the trailer, thought it was fun enough to go and tune my brain out, and for the most, it worked. As completely silly as Ready or Not looks and seems, I managed to sit back and let the games begin.

Look, this is not a movie you’re going to sit back and discuss amongst movie-going friends (unless those friends probably don’t go to movies to see something good other than to enjoy carnage of which this movie has in droves and then some). It’s just not going to happen. This is a brain fart, something that you buy out of impulse knowing full well you’ll never use, a moment of weakness from your regimented diet of protein and lo-carbs where you said, “Fuck it! I deserve this entire slice of pepperoni and seven layers of cheese and goddamnit I’m gonna have it!”

And there you have it. Ready or Not is, satanic rituals aside, wickedly fun. Samara Weaving comes out smelling like a lot of bloodshed and has a career ahead of her in better films. The films only weak point? Henry Czerny, not in it for the camp it seems but playing his part as though this were high drama and trying to act so perverted in one scene it came out rather awful. Andie McDowell, never a great actress but a reliable female presence in the late 80s and 90s, delivers and cashes in a paycheck and looks incredible for 61. What else can I say? It’s playing in theaters; go see it and have a laugh, you totally deserve it.

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? Finding yourself can be A disappearing Act

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? Country, USA. Director, Richard Linklater. Screenwriters: Richard Linklater, Holly Gent, Vincent Palmo, Jr. Based on the novel of the same name by Mara Temple. Cast: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kirsten Wiig, Judy Toll, Zoe Chao, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Burton, Megan Mullaly. Language, English. Runtime, 130 minutes. Venue, AMC Newport Mall.

Mostly Indies rating:

I’ll be the first to admit that I walked into this movie more curious than anything because while I like Cate Blanchett, this was a Richard Linklater film and he’s not exactly known for making female-centric movies. Yes, even while the Before movies and Boyhood do feature women in large and complex roles, they’re not the lead, the story is not told from their exclusive point of view, they don’t really drive the plot on their own. Also, and to her advantage, in the Before films, Julie Delpy basically wrote her own character so she had basically control over how to direct it, in a way.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a popular novel by Maria Semple, and it stars Cate Blanchett as an architect of certain prestige and fame that has, since a project of hers, the 20-Mile House, called that way because it only utilized elements found in a 20-mile radius, was sold to a buyer who later destroyed it, an act that essentially, caused some paralyzing trauma and sent her packing from San Francisco to Seattle. Since then, she’s lived in a bubble of her former self, dictating orders over the phone to her never-seen assistant Manjula, getting into arguments with the neighbors, especially Audrey (Kirsten Wiig), and being oblivious to her husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) who is securing some new software at Microsoft and has become close to his admin assistant Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao).

It doesn’t help that Bernadette herself is her own worst enemy. Her casual eccentricities, compounded by her dealings with Manjula, who turns out to be a scammer out to get their assets and is being watched by the FBI, precipitates Elgin to have Bernadette committed. Bernadette, however, takes matters into her own hands and does the only thing she can think of: escape.

For the most part, I found the movie to be pretty entertaining while some aspects of it didn’t quite seem like they could happen. Wiig’s Audrey does a complete about-face and not having read the novel I cannot judge if this is how she was written; it just seems that from how she is introduced to how she affects Bernadette’s decision it looks almost like a character in service to the plot. Other than that, the core of the story, that of a daughter (Emma Nelson) trying to keep her bond to her mother intact, is touching.

More importantly is Bernadette’s own search for herself — for the first hour of the movie, she moves about as if she were a ghost, so it’s fitting that her house is an absolute decrepit mess that may need to be demolished. One early scene between her and a colleague played by Laurence Fishburne lays all of her angst out in one almost unbroken shot, and you get where the women who had broken barriers in Architecture — still mainly a man’s job — had imploded into a mess of hoots and clicks. That she embarks on a literal flight to avoid any more restriction and hopefully emerge renewed is only a logical conclusion to her inner journey. If she succeeds… well. You’ll just have to see for yourself,

Brief encounters at the END OF THE CENTURY

Juan Barberini observes Ramon Pujol, the man who got away, in Lucio Castro’s drama End of the Century.

END OF THE CENTURY (FIN DE SIGLO). Country, Spain/Argentina. Director, Lucio Castro. Screenwriter, Lucio Castro. Cast: Juan Barberini, Ramon Pujol, Mia Maestro. Runtime: 84 minutes. Venue: IFC Center. Mostly Indies: A

Two men have a chance encounter that turns out to be pregnant with more history than they would have expected in Lucio Castro’s sparse yet deeply affecting debut film End of the Century (Fin de siglo). At 84 minutes in length, his movie crosses time and space and presents two men at different junctures in life and concludes with one that can only be assessed as wishful thinking, memory, longing, and missed opportunity.

While traveling in Barcelona on business, Ocho (Juan Barberini) crosses paths with Javi (Ramon Pujol) and invites him to the apartment where he’s temporality staying to hang out for a bit. Some initial awkward conversation — the kind that always happens when strangers meet — happens, including a rather funny emergency run to fetch some condoms since Javi never has sex without them, but it’s clear where this will go. When we do get there, it is in one breathless, erotically charged shot filled with simple yet powerful beauty.

Once the aftermath arrives the men agree to keep in touch, and it’s here where, over wine, Javi reveals to Ocho that they have met before, Without a beat, Castro takes us to the past where both Javi and Ocho were involved with other people — both women. Ocho was, at the time, grappling with his own sexual identity when, during a vulnerable period in his life, he met Javi, who was in the process of making a film., Both men instantly hit it off, and have an intimate moment of passion before Ocho disappears. In the present, Javi is now married to a German man in Berlin and Ocho is coming out of a 20 year relationship. It’s clear that the men belong together; their energy together fills the screen, but circumstances, of course, have determined that this will not go past what it is.

Incredibly, seamlessly, Castro integrates this ellipsis with a transition into what could have been, and it’s almost too painful to watch two men who could have been happy together, reenact their lives of serene, passionless domesticity, resigned to live with their spouses in comfort, Without a drop of sentimentality, Castro has concocted the perfect date movie, and a study in loneliness interrupted if not magnified with a brief encounter pregnant with possibilities.

[Seen at a sneak preview on August 15, 2019 at the IFC Center.]

Head Bitches in Charge: THE KITCHEN Puts the Women Up Front in This Uneven Crime Drama.

THE KITCHEN. Country, USA. Director, Andrea Berloff. Screenwriters, Andrea Berloff, Ollie Masters, and Ming Doyle, based on the comic book by Masters and Doyle. Cast: Melissa Mccarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domnhall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian D’Arcy James, Common, Margo Martindale, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb. Runtime, 102 minutes. Venue, AMC Village 7. Mostly Indies rating, C+

You would think that stepping off her excellent portrayal of greed and miserabilism in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy would continue the trend into more dramatic fare. Her current entry, Andrea Berloff’s flat The Kitchen, places McCarthy in a dramatic limbo, sandwiched between Tiffany Haddish — who actually fares better considering her latest outings have been comedies — and Elisabeth Moss, who does wonders with a part that has next to no lines. McCarthy’ part, we understand, is meant to evoke sympathy, a woman who discovers empowerment and her own place in the world even if that world is the underbelly of society and dominated by men who aren’t ready to let go of that power just yet.

It’s not that McCarthy is bad in the movie; she’s quite good, as usual, and sports truly beautiful 70s hair. It’s the movie itself that doesn’t quite know, it seems, how to fully develop her character, or if she understands the repercussions that come with her choice as her character moves from situation to situation and stakes get higher.

But before I get there, here is the synopsis: three abused wives of mob men who’ve been arrested in Ann FBI sting find themselves without a penny to their name. An opportunity arises to collect some back-owed money, and this soon morphs into greater chances to acquire footing by running their husbands affairs. Things don’t quite bode well with the men in the business, who decide to retaliate, and it’s only time before the husbands themselves get out. In the interim, the women start to acquire power within the settings of the City, going as far as to lay claim to neighborhoods and accomplish serious dealings with a major monster played by Bill Camp. Rifts start to appear between Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Kathy (McCarthy) over the use of money and power. As it turns out, and with good reason, Ruby will turn out to be more power-hungry than she first presented herself. That will pose a problem neither Kathy nor anyone could see coming.

So far, so good: the movie in concept does have a solid ground to stand on. There will be the inevitable comparison to last year’s Widows (itself an equally pulpy, silly story of crosses and double crosses that force the widows of mobsters to stand their own). I think that it’s mainly the presentation itself. For so much story, paring it does to a mere 100 minutes makes it feel rushed and superficial. For the most part we don’t really get to know who these women truly are. There is really no major build up to any showdown so any conflict resolution seems almost cardboard—okay, but nothing more. Other than Elisabeth Moss’ Claire — single handedly the movie’s highlight and the one with the most character development and the one the movie’s plot treats most shabbily — we only experience them as three women transitioning into power and eliminating anything that stands between them and control.

Perhaps that is all the movie wanted to say. Men may have led the path in gangster films, but now it’s the women’s turn. If only it could have made that a bit more memorable.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK… not quite.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Country, Canada, US. Director, Andre Ovredal. Screenwriters, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro, Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton. Based on a story by Alvin Schwartz. Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Dean Norris, Natalie Ganzjhorn, Lorraine Toussaint, Gil Bellows, Javier Botet. Language, English. Runtime, 102 minutes. Release Date: August 9, 2019. Venue: Regal Battery Park. Mostly Indies rating: C+

Beware of any promo that offers one too many jump scares and informs you it’s “from the mind of ___” because it’s a sign the movie is probably not going to deliver the premise it is trying to sell. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a movie directed by Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter), arrives in August and is being advertised as from the pen of Guillermo del Toro. Its trailer comes with one shock after shock and ends with a big reveal, and that already is a problem, and I’ll tell you why.

When Hereditary came out last year no one could anticipate what it was exactly about. Everything pointed at a girl acting disjointedly, disturbing her mother, and haunted by her dead grandmother. Now, that kind of is what the movie presents… but of course once you go in and experience the movie proper, you realize how wrong you were, and then, the horror truly reveals itself, right down to the very blissful end, as Judy Collins starts to sing.

That isn’t the case here. And I’m a fan of Guillermo del Toro; his first two movies, The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) and Cronos established a striking new view on horror by the way of Victor Erice that reached its apex in Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauna). Even his Hellboy series have garnered critical acclaim.

However, when becoming prolific there’s the risk of having to deliver and place the stamp of your name to secure the product’s success. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is del Toro’s adaptation of the Alvin Schwartz book of the same name. I personally never read it so I cannot guarantee how faithful the movie is in spirit to the book,

It focuses primarily on a group of friends, mostly on the geekier side of normal, who play a prank on one of the school’s notorious bullies while trick or treating on Halloween night. When the bully and his friends give chase to the kids they wind up first in a drive-in theater showing Night of the Living Dead, where they hide in drifter’s car whom they befriend. Later on, the gang arrives at every small town’s version of the blasted house, a place that seems cursed. The house belonged to the affluent Bellows family that somehow was besieged with incredible tragedy. While there they experience a series of unexplained situations, and Stella (Zoe Margaret Coletti) finds a mysterious book written in dark red ink.

Inside the book, which seems to be a journal of sorts, are horror stories written by Sarah Bellows, Stella realizes later that the book seems to be writing itself as a new story titled “Harold” in which the main character is the bully who has been after them, Tommy. Here is where the movie finally begins, and the scares start to happen. The “Harold” section of the movie is the most effective, using well-timed jump scares and dread to describe the dark fate of the Tommy character, and the images are truly rightening to say the least.

Of course, the following stories amp up the stakes against our group of friends who come to realize that the book itself is the problem, and it’s up to them to find a stop to it. One stand out sequence involves one character’s sister who starts to grow a pimple on the night she is to perform… the result is truly grotesque and I will leave it to you to see for yourself.

So, it is indeed safe to say that for the most I did enjoy the movie. The issue is, Scary Movies to Tell in the Dark is more geared for a younger crowd who either have never seen a horror movie (is that even possible nowadays?) or like their horror, “lite.” In that care, this is the perfect movie for them and it comes a full month before the release of It: Chapter Two, another movie also featuring kids that is decidedly more gruesome than superficially scary.

LUCE tackles the ghost of prejudice and privilege and comes up with no easy answers.

Kelvin Harrison, Jr. stars in Julius Onah’s Luce.

LUCE. Country, USA. Director, Julius Onah. Language, English. Cast: Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Tim Roth. Screenwriters, JC Lee and Julius Onah. Release Date, August 2, 2019. Runtime, 110 minutes. Venue: Angelika Film Center. Mostly Indies rating, A +.

Sandwiched in between The Nightingale and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is what I consider to be one of the best movies this year: Julius Onah’s Luce. Based on JC Lee’s off-Broadway play and also co-written by Onah, Luce is quite the conversation piece because of how difficult a story it is: in fact, the story offers so much complexity in narration, and characterization, that one cannot but only follow its puzzle, interpret the information it (selectively) gives, only to have it reveal something else entirely, and arrive at a conclusion that one would never expect. This is the kind of movie that we need more of, not empty-plotted monster movies or lousy exercises in action. Luce, even as a character study and rooted in theater, has loads of action happening right in front of you (and some developments, off-screen). It is, in essence, a master-class in compelling story telling with a quartet of actors at their best, the standouts here being Octavia Spencer as Luce’s discriminating teacher and Kelvin J Harrison Jr as the title character and by far, the glue that holds this entire thread in the palms of his hand.

From the moment we meet Luce we get a picture of a successful, polite, charming young man who is being groomed for greatness. Once Luce was a child soldier in Eritrea and was rescued, only to be adopted by Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). Through their love, their compassion, and — let’s face it — their affluence, Luce was able to conquer trauma, negative memories, and re-emerge into a star pupil at the verge of greatness in both his studies and athleticism. However, immediately that intro passes, we see some troubling signs that all is not quite right. For once, his teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), known for being particularly hard on African American students, doesn’t exactly cheer Luce after he delivers a rousing speech at the start of the movie. It could be she’s just stern, or perhaps there is something else.

That something else reveals itself as an essay Luce has written from an assignment she herself gave, His topic of choice, Frantz Fanon, a controversial figure who wrote about the implementation of violence as a mode to confront colonialism, disturbs her so much she calls Amy to her office to discuss her parenting as well as to give her a bag with fireworks she found in his locker. Keep in mind, from this essay that she herself assigned, she has somehow felt it her duty to invade his privacy, the locker he shares with his buds, and fears he might have troubling thoughts lingering underneath. Today’s climate at school, with students potentially acting out scenes of violence, Wilson feels it is her duty to confront it head on and see if there isk in fact, any truth to that. Amy and Peter don’t confront Luce immediately, but Luce soon has a series of confrontations with Wilson — one, a rehearsal for a debate, the other, an apparently cut and dry meeting in her office where Luce possibly throws a veiled threat. Needless to say, this threat does not sit well with Wilson.

We question the reason the Edgars don’t immediately confront Luce with the evidence (that they even leave carelessly tucked into a cabinet in the kitchen). Its never clear if this is because of genuine love (and keep in mind, parents will go to the ends of the earth for their child, adopted or not) or perhaps a need to be White saviors for a child that in other circumstances would never have had a chance. Where the situation becomes a bit thorny is when Amy does bring her doubts to the surface. Luce immediately starts calling her by her first name and withdraws. She starts asking her own questions, and in a scene involving Luce’s ex-girlfriend Stephanie (Andrea Bang), who may have had something awful happen to her at a party, she finds out more than she might have wanted to. This piece of information gets delivered extremely piecemeal, and when Wilson gets it in her possession, she sees it as a chance to vindicate herself, because as of yet, her claims have not been heard, and adding to that, the appearance of her mentally unstable sister at school, a scene that goes viral almost immediately, lands Wilson’s credibility and even her competence in shaky ground.

This is the type of story I live for. A narrative that seems to be at surface value cut and dry morphs constantly into something deeper and reveals shades of shadows even in its most well-defined characters. Luce forces you to first see one thing, then hear of another event linked, and then become privy to yet more information that might either negate what you thought was the truth and leave you with no one to truly root for. Is Luce a remarkable psychopath? Is Wilson, a strict teacher, in the right to have cut the dreams of another African American student short because she found pot in his locker, a locker that again, was shared? Could Luce have possibly engineered some of the later events in the movie and walked out a victor as Wilson despairs and his own parents sit silently by?

No answers, and that is just how I like it. Luce is a shapeshifting masterpiece with stellar performances from its quartet, one that crackles with tense energy and treats its scenario of life in school as if it were a puzzle with one or more of the crucial pieces missing and a growing sense of mysteries that we probably will not fully understand. Onah understands closeups and uses them to their maximum to elevate a rather wordy play into something else quite revealing… shadows hidden within light, characters who have traumas that they’d rather keep hidden.