The Witch

Studio: Parts and Labor . . . . . Length: 92 Mins. . . . . . Rating: R . . . . . Website


Starring:  Anya taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger

Directed by: Robert Eggers

The-Witch.jpgHow pious do you have to be to get banished from a Puritan colonial plantation?  That’s exactly what happens to a family of seven in 1630 New England, forcing them to relocate to a remote patch of land on the edge of…a forest.  Uh-oh.

Forests seem to be prime real estate for witches, with their festering, malevolent trees that you just know is hiding a small, secluded cottage tucked away in isolation.  Made of candy, it’s not.

The relocating family consists of martyr-like father William (Ralph Ineson) tragic-faced mum Katherine (Kate Dickie), innocent, repressed eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) bosom-conscious eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) mischievous younger twins Jonas and Mercy (Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger) and nursing infant Samuel.

The family provides fodder for a neighboring, murderous crone (Bathsheba Garnett) whom they never see.  The effects of her presence are apparent in the disappearance of some of the children.  The crone is suddenly alluring and seductive (Sarah Stephens) – but at what (literally) bloody price?   Never fear.  Budding beauty Thomasin, an adolescent girl, will be blamed for every unsettling occurrence.

The year is 1630, decades before the Salem witch trials, but Thomasin rapidly becomes the center of the family’s hysteria, fueled by boisterous twin siblings who are vociferous mouthpieces of accusation and unrestrained commentary.

There is even “sin” in Thomasin’s name.  Fingers point in her direction as death descends like nightfall on the family.  Eggs and goat milk turn bloody, crops fail; even the animals seem sinister and conspiratorial.  The surrounding forest is another cruel presence, first presented as foreboding treetops amid a choir of scream-like voices, a warning that is not heeded.

Creepy and grim, the film is riveting in a voyeuristic sense.  A snapshot of an austere, religion-driven existence, full of the fear of sin and denial of pleasure, there’s almost no need for an embodied witch.  The horror here is what’s happening to Thomasin and her ravaged family.  Suspicion, accusations, and lies nearly rival the actual witch, who has precious little screen time after a brief, disturbing scene of baby Samuel’s fate.  Afterward, in a newly acquired youthful and voluptuous body, she becomes Caleb’s frenzied downfall.  Scrimshaw gives a tremendous performance here, anchoring an effective cast.

Black Phillip (Wahab Chaudhry) is the family goat and your guess would probably be correct on why he’d need a human credit

the-witch-still-oneWriter/director Robert Eggers’ feature debut (previous shorts: Hansel and Gretel, The Telltale Heart), is an atmospheric tale of paranoia where those who pray are preyed upon without mercy, and without the help of the God that they call upon so frequently.  Eggers won the Best Director Prize in the U.S. Narrative Competition at Sundance for The Witch, and utilized transcripts of the era for some of the film’s dialogue.  You will encounter thee, thou, and thy by the cauldron-full.  The period recreation is impressive, bu painfully slow pacing derails much of the plot’s effectiveness.

The snail’s pace (some would call it slow-building horror; I wouldn’t) ramps up during the last few minutes, resulting in a disjointed, out-of-place, where-did-this-come-from conclusion that’s almost anti-climactic.

The Witch is a misnomer for a film that’s really a study in the seduction of innocence and the hysteria of unchecked religious fervor. Packaged and presently as horror, had it stayed within the confines of a fanatically religious family, its dissection of the human condition under onerous constraints would be all the more potent.

As a horror film, it disappoints.  As a psychological study of paranoia within an absurdly religious climate, it makes a point sharper than any witch’s headgear. 18lsgw1pzugtajpg



Studio: Columbia Pictures . . . . . Length: 111 Mins. . . . . . Rating: PG-13 . . . . . Website

Starring:  Chloe Grace Moretz, Matthew Zuk, Gabriela Lopez, Bailey Anne Borders

Directed by: J Blakeson


Although it sounds like some kind of surfer adventure, The 5th Wave is actually a young adult novel – a young adult science fiction novel, in that order.  British director J Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) and a trio of writers Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) Akiva Goldsman (Star Trek Into Darkness) and Susannah Grant (Ever After) ramp up the teen romance of Rick Yancey’s 2013 book and treat the alien invasion as a pesky interference.

9016-year-old Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) is one of a group of dwindling human survivors in a world devastated by alien “waves” of systematic destruction by power loss, tsunami, disease, and massacre.  One ordinary day, an enormous alien spaceship appears in the sky and it is (literally) “lights out” on Earth.  The aliens come to be known as The Others; we never get to see them, or do we?  This surprise is, unfortunately, painfully obvious.

Cassie loses both her parents (Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff) to waves caused by The Others.  Her little brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur) has been swept up in a campaign of child soldiers defending the Earth from the ruthless invaders, under the leadership of stony-faced Coloel Vosch (Live Schreiber) and his sidekick, Sergeant Reznic (Maria Bello).
Naturally, a deep deception is afoot, and Cassie sets out to rescue Sammy (now renamed Nugget) from a training camp with the help of her high school crush Ben (Nick Robinson) and the hunky Evan (Alex Roe) a farm boy who rescues her from a sniper and bathes in a creek so his six-pack is on display.  How these three find each other is explained by a convenient set of circumstances.

Ben (renamed Zombie) is actually the leader of the armed child-squad in which Sammy/Nugget is a member.  He can lead Cassie to the boy.  How he abandoned his squad is another tale that includes new recruit Ringer (Maika Monroe) a badass in raccoon-like eyeliner who insists that she’ll harm anyone who makes sexist remarks as the camera zooms in on her own ass, as seen by other juvenile recruits.    “She’s cool,” exclaims Teacup (Talitha Bateman) a little girl with a big gun.  Way to make a statement.

Farm boy Evan has a secret underneath all those abs and a beating heart for Cassie, which must be based solely on looks as she makes it clear that she never quite trusts him.  Okay, after the six-pack glimpse she does, but just for a little while.  Evan cares for a wounded Cassie after she is shot in the leg by an unnamed man with a gun, a commonplace occurrence in the new world order, we are led to believe.

Sooner or later, everyone converges on the training camp/headquarters where it is discovered that all the kids are being relocated.  Cassie manages to find Sammy among the throngs, even though he is one of the shortest recruits, virtually hidden by taller “soldiers” surrounding him.  Lots of convenient happenings in the rescue, but the important thing is that Ben and Cassie and Evan, who shows up suddenly and heroically through an air vent, are together so that the two guy-one girl ratio is preserved (see Twilight, Hunger Games).

It does not matter how any of these characters got into their predicament.  It only matters that there are physical attractions, sudden kisses, and a do-you-like-me-box-yes-box-no relationship in the works.

2016_the_5th_wave-wideThe film objectifies both genders and delivers cringe-worthy dialogue to its protagonists, in some cases becoming a wave (nausea) of its own.  Just because the world is fast-becoming Adolescent Central does not mean that everything has to be so…juvenile.

The adequate special effects are over by the 20-minute mark; much more pervasive is the possible relationship Cassie might have, will have, or desires to have with Ben, or Evan, or both.  It’s just like going steady, weapons optional.

Chloë Grace Moretz is unusually adept at looking scared, or shocked, and does so for over half the film.  Maika Monroe’s Ringer is the strong female role model, but she must portray a ball-busting stereotype to hammer that message home.  Nick Robinson fits his character’s high school hero persona, and Alex Roe’s Evan is literally just a pretty face spouting clichés in some of the worst dialogue of the film.

Maria Bello is terribly miscast as Sergeant Reznic, sporting an inexplicably stuccoed-on layer of makeup and faux-hawked hair.  That may be how The Others translate femininity on Earth.  If so, masculinity comes across as a sullen, humorless robot, droning on in monotone platitudes “Make me proud, son,” – like Liev Schreiber’s Colonel Vosch.  Maybe all those armed minors ARE the Earth’s last, best hope, saving us all from overdone cosmetics and unimaginative leaders.

The lackluster, unresolved ending screams for a sequel. Too bad the inclination is to scream back, but NOT in the affirmative.

3 1:2 REELS


Studio: MGM . . . . . Length: 93 Mins. . . . . . Rating: PG-13 . . . . . Website

Starring:  Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Jared Harris

Directed by: Gil Kenan

Director Tobe Hooper has nothing to do with this latest reboot of his iconic 1982 horror film, but you may appreciate him more after you’ve seen it.

“They” are here, once more.The Bowen family, Amy and Eric (Rosemarie DeWitt, Sam Rockwell) and their children, Kendra, Griffin and Maddie (Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, and Kennedi Clements) move into a housing development built on a graveyard and the corpses are up in arms (pun intended).  The poor “souls” choose youngest member Maddie to lead hem to THE LIGHT, luring her through another dimension in her closet wall

The restless souls start out as floating pods of light themselves before manifesting as zombie-like skeletons with gaping jaws.  If they’re looking for THE LIGHT, wouldn’t they appear to deserve it first?  If not, heaven is in for a truckload of hooligans

There are some nice chills in the beginning as the kids are terrorized.  A tree makepoltergeists “going green” a horrifying experience for Griffin. Grotesque clown dolls leer and attack while the laundry room floor cracks and oozes black slime while sprouting grasping arms that pull Kendra downward.  Whispers and murmurings inside the closet coax six-year-old Maddie far enough in so that she’s hauled off into the darkness. Fun stuff like that.
Maddie’s parents (much too calmly) enlist paranormal expert Claire (Jane Adams) and later, cable TV star and house exorcist Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris) to retrieve her. One of Claire’s assistants has a chillingly close encounter with a hand drill; the other explains that Maddie is “here and not here” by drawing a circle on two different sheets of paper.  Everyone understands but the audience.

~Similarly, a lack of parental panic makes Rockwell’s and DeWitt’s characters, who only show real hysteria when something happens to Griffin, seem unrealistic.  Your daughter is in danger; please show some emotion.  Otherwise, we know you’re reading from a script, and that should never be apparent.

POLTERGEIST-2015-785x506Director Gil Kenan (Monster House) and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) provide some variations in their new version of the classic film (no swimming pool, no crawling food, no Zelda Rubenstein, 3D effect, good for a scene with a squirrel, etc.) along with elements from the original (rope guide, ceiling portal, ectoplasm, internal whirlwinds, spontaneous inanimate formations) but these only serve to remind us what the original film did so effectively. Here, both the recognizable and the new seem like weak imitations.  If only the viewer were grabbed the way Maddie was.

An abrupt resolution and puzzling “Easter egg” tucked midway through the end credits add to the dissatisfaction. This Poltergeist paints by the numbers, but the picture it creates is not even worthy of a fridge magnet.



Studio: Walt Disney . . . . . Length: 130 Mins. . . . . . Rating: PG . . . . . Website

Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson. Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn

Directed by: Brad Bird

tomorrowlandheaderApparently, the future is full of high, thin spires with flying vehicles buzzing in, out, and around them.  Surrounded by a vast, amber wheat field, it’s a veritable utopia of cleanliness and enlightenment – unlike our sewer of a planet Earth, sullied and slowly dying.  But is this the future?  Is Earth slowly dying?

Tomorrowland can be accessed by touching a mysterious pin, as both junior inventor Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) and later, uber tech-savvy Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) discover.

Tomorrowland-Concept-Art-1As a child, Frank visits the 1964 World Fair in New York, toting his jet pack made from Electrolux vacuum cleaner parts.  There he meets condescending British scientist David Nix (Hugh Laurie) and the enchanting Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a British tween with the style and poise of Audrey Hepburn.  The two will figure prominently in Frank’s life where, as an adult, he morphs into a disillusioned George Clooney.

Decades later, a covert, drone-operating Casey receives a pin while in jail for trying to save her dad’s (Tim McGraw) NASA job.  Her accidental and then orchestrated visits to Tomorrowland place her on a quest to find Frank, aided by Athena, who has a vested interest in these two ultra-smart dynamos teaming up to…save the world?

Complicating matters is the fact that Frank and Casey are polar opposites.  He’s bitter; she’s optimistic.  He’s given up on idealism; she’s full of it.  His motto could be, don’t bother me; hers, do something!  These two on an adventure together can be pretty exhausting for the viewer.  The two disagree at every turn.  Casey is frequently bewildered; Frank is impatient.

There are chase scenes, explosions, and death by disintegration guns.  Someone does not want Frank and Casey to uncover Tomorrowland’s secret, but gosh darn it, they do, which leads to more explosions, chase scenes, and disintegrations.

Tomorrowland itself is visually spectacular.  We get a glimpse of the place (the multi-level swimming pools are ingenious) but are barely allowed to explore its unique premises, remaining instead with our bickering protagonists as they uncover a shady plot that could result in Earth’s extinction.

The film has a winning, nostalgic start and a moving, inspirational end.  Hugh Laurie spouts the best line about responsibility vs. apathy.  Raffey Cassidy’s character is likeable and efficient.  Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key have small but entertainingly quirky roles as memorabilia store operators (or are they)?

Director Brad Bird (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) co-wrote the screenplay with Damon Lindelof (Star Trek) and infuses it with exposition encompassing lots of hidden “shoulds” that, while noble, can be off-putting.  No one likes to be lectured – not when there are such great swimming pools to play in and airtrains to ride.

Another of the film’s messages seems to infer that only a few chosen citizens (carefully recruited) are gifted enough to care for the world’s Tomorrowland-Casey-Newton-850x560future.  Why not open that up to everyone instead of forming an elite segment of environmental and creative snobs?  I have a pin and you don’t, nyah-nyah!

Focusing on Frank and Casey (and sometimes Athena) means the group is constantly on the run, Casey is constantly baffled, Frank is constantly disgruntled, and we are constantly locked out of the most fascinating place on the screen, Tomorrowland itself.

Where’s the future in that?



Starring:  Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones

Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg


madmaxfuryroadimLooks aren’t everything.

Be warned: The future is an arid nightmare full of vicious, warlords with leathery skin, bad teeth, missing noses.  Water, blood, and gas are prized, harvested, and hoarded.  Cruelty is a way of life and ugly is the pervasive adjective for the population and its many violent gangs.

Ugliest of all is King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) a repulsive, white-haired tyrant who controls the water and thus, the turf known as The Wasteland from his internal mountain lair, The Citadel.  In Joe’s world, women are for breeding and milking.

Max (Tom Hardy) is a survivor and loner, haunted by nightmares of his deceased family, living on instinct (he doesn’t mind eating his mutant food raw) until he’s captured by Joe’s mobilized War Boy posse and kept as a living blood transfusion for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a War Boy who has actually named the tumors on his neck.  It’s nice to have friends.

But this is not about Joe, Max or Nux.  This is about Furiosa, a big rig driving, one-armed female warrior who breaks ranks from Joe, smuggling his wives (who do not follow the dress code or skin type for these parts; they moisturize) into a sought-after destination she remembers as the Green Place.

A relentless pursuit ensues, as Joe’s forces, along with other allies – all armed, motorized, souped-up, and decidedly NOT aesthetic to the eye, give constant chase and battle to Furiosa and the wives, joined eventually by Nux and Max to form a tiny but effective ragtag army of their own

madmaxfuryroadwiThere are many novel ways to assault and die, and director George Miller (all three of the previous Mad Max films in the franchise) explores unique variations, all of them on wheels, some on poles, some as living hood ornaments.  The visuals, stunt work, custom vehicles, set and sound design all rock, sometimes literally.

Most of the film is a chase scene, one long shot of adrenaline to the heart, which can be exhausting to watch.  There is very little exposition except for Max’s tiny voice-over at the very beginning, and some Furiosa dialogue with various women of her original clan.  There is a lot to see and hear, and the scenes of pursuit are endless.  Is gas scarce or what?  You wouldn’t know it from the hairtrigger tempers attached to the lead footed goons at the pedal.

Miller’s new world order is ferociously realized, highly stylized, and sometimes laughably over the top.  Flesh is hooked, chained, masked, sliced, and tattooed.

Bodies are commodities to be drained of blood and milk.  Barren desert vistas underscore a primitive existence where no mercy is expected or shown.

Other grotesque characters are introduced.  One has a metal nose and edemic feet; one has no eyes.  All in a day’s maxresdefault8work for the inhabitants of the world after the bomb.  The explosions don’t stop, nor do the considerable amount of omnipresent gears grinding out a rhythm of mayhem and brutality.  Turns out grease is the word.  Axle grease, that is.

Max is not even the star of his own film.  This is Furiosa’s story, with our anti-hero playing the supporting role.  Both Theron and Hardy do their best to lift the material from mindless to meaningful, but with so few lines, they are continually drowned out by revving engines, war cries, and an insanely frenetic solo guitarist with a rig (and stage) of his own.  The drum corps. rides on another.  Music does NOT soothe these savage beasts.

The problem is that the story is only told through action so that some viewers are left to draw their own conclusions about the circus of violence racing across the screen.

Others will be left in the considerable dust of this dry “civilization” that’s all show and no tell.  That’s never enough to support a well-told tale.

Looks aren’t everything.



Starring:  Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenearts, Tilly Vosburgh, Mark Wingett, Dorian Lough, Sam Phillips, Tom Sturridge, June Temple

Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg


becomingjanejamesmcavoyannehathaway1You will not hear the word ‘madding’, ever, in the film. It is neither referred to nor mentioned, so I will tell you its origin. The namesake novel’s author, Thomas Hardy, took it from the first line of a Thomas Gray poem. The word means frenzied and knowing that, the title takes on an enhanced meaning, as in getting away from the rat race, such as there was in the 19th century.

1870, Dorset, England; Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) comes into a modest fortune as heir to an estate farm in disrepair. The story follows her interactions with three admirers, one of whom is perfect for her, one of whom is suitable for her, and one of whom is the worst possible choice she could make.
I’ll go no further because you probably can predict what the strong, independent lady boss does, despite her brains and beauty. Men are captivated by her on sight, it seems, but she is not the marrying kind. That’s what she states over and over again, anyway.
farfrommaddingcrowdThe three men is question are Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) a poor but worthy shepherd/farmer whose sheep were literally led astray to plunge off a cliff by an overeager herding dog; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a wealthy bachelor from a neighboring estate; and Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) who’s been accidentally and embarrassingly stood up at the altar by Fanny Robin (Juno Temple) a former servant of Bathsheba’s estate.
Although faithful to the book, in varying degrees, director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) only skims the surface of Bathsheba’s actions, making her appear questionable in her behavior with the suitors. He’s removed her character’s inherent vanity and substituted a progressive independence and business acumen, and then tries to have us believe that she’s suddenly and willingly able to be seduced at a moment’s notice, and by a most dubious character at that.
Yes, Hardy wrote it that way, but in this new film version, certain important interactions between Bathsheba and her admirers are either omitted, enhanced, or diminished, causing subsequent actions and decisions to seem out of character for them. Screen writer David Nicholls (Great Expectations) picks and chooses Hardy’s scenes as if in a buffet line, making Bathsheba seem dense and capricious, when the entire first half of the film shows you that she is not. Instant disconnect.
farfromthemaddingcrow007This is at odds with the sumptuous cinematography of the English countryside, the serene interior scenes full of natural lighting, the set decorations and the fine work of the actors themselves. Those are evocative and period perfect, but if you get lost in the lovely atmosphere, you risk giving the film more credit than it deserves.
Mulligan is a capable and confident Bathsheba, so her missteps seem out of place. The Bathsheba we are shown has little time for haughty vanity, yet that is what drives her in the book, explaining a lot there that doesn’t make it to the screen. Sturridge’s Troy is merely a one-note afterthought. Sheen’s Boldwood is one of the most sympathetic characters as is Schoenaerts’ Oak, as solid as his wooden surname. Temple’s Fanny appears, disappears, and appears again with head-spinning swiftness, in a key plot point that keeps her a total stranger.
Perhaps a longer version of the film would get it right, but at 119 minutes, this one is far from satisfying.



Starring:  Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley, Robert Kazinsky, Richard T. Jones, Benny Nieves, Jim Gaffigan

Directed by: Anne Fletcher


maxresdefault1bBuckle up.  You’re going on a wildly contrived road trip that’s supposed to be an uproarious comedy, but rest assured, you won’t die…laughing, that is.  Your brain cells may be in danger, though.

Two likeable and talented actresses (one of them an Academy Award winner) portray Rose Cooper (Reese Witherspoon), a by-the-book, straight arrow cop with a pesky misstep in her past, and Daniella Riva (Sofía Vergara) the glamorous wife of a government witness set to testify against brutal drug cartel leader Vincente Cortez (Joaquín Cosío).

The unlikely duo, a study in contrasts, find themselves on the lam from two different teams of armed bad guys, one a pair of crooked cops, who frame the two for murder.  There’s plenty to run from including the implausible plot.

In the film’s one good running gag, news reports about the two women make Cooper progressively shorter and Daniela progressively older.  That is just one thing that the women protest, in addition to just about everything about each other.  Daniella thinks Cooper looks like a boy and is boring in dress and attitude.    Cooper thinks Daniella is frivolous and way too attached to her shoe collection and décolletage.

Hmm…forced togetherness…total opposites…lots of conflict and insults…just as original as being wrongly accused and on the lam, right?  Yeah, right.

During their adventures across Texas, the pair commandeer a series of vehicles, impersonate a lesbian couple, change clothes publicly at a road-stop store, impersonate a deer, handcuff each other, wrestle for gun superiority, and attempt to lose a couple of shooters (the ammo-loaded kind) during a high speed chase using a tour bus full of senior citizens (some cringe-worthy slapstick there).

Randy (Robert Kazinsky) a potential love interest for Cooper pops up (in the bed of one of the trucks they commandeer) and weaves in and out of the plot, ankle monitor and all, an insignificant backstory.  The real reason he’s here is because what Cooper needs (doesn’t every woman?) is a man – another original concept.

Director Anne Fletcher (The Proposal) helms a film that suffers from clumsy timing and tired stereotypes (Latinas are hot-tempered, senior citizens are dopey). Scriptwriters David Feeney (TV’s The New Girl) and John Quaintance (Material Girls) don’t do these girls any favors.

maxresdefaultThe short 87-minute running time is actually a plus, and there are outtakes during the end credits that are funnier than most of the film’s attempts at humor.

Witherspoon and Vergara do emanate a quirky chemistry that may find them teaming up again on something smarter than this stale vehicle, filled with characters that could rightly be named Thelma and Puh-leeze.

Meeting our heroine’s parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell) and discovering their “have courage and be kind” influence on their daughter fills in a piece of the Cinderella puzzle long ignored, but initiates the somewhat slow pace to come.That being said, the ballroom scene is full of colorful, dizzying enchantment.

Two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett is the haute couture reason to revel in the visuals as her scathing, scarlet lips issue a cascade of casual crue17708317-largelty.  Wicked stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) provide vain, silly (but not ugly) counterparts for James’s kind, forgiving, integrity-filled servant-turned-princess. Madden’s prince has a first name, and it is NOT Charming, but he does wear tights, ride horses, and pursue his prized female with a solitary glass shoe.  

Thankfully, some things never change.Director Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet) helms a Chris Weitz (Antz) narrative that is safe – and sumptuous.  Academy Award winners Sandy Powell (costume design) and Dante Ferretti (production design) weave an opulence that for some, will be enough to ride into “Happily Ever After.”Others will find the new Cinderella to be an instance of More is Less.  

Two reels