Film Brief: Thelma

Not to be confused with Thelma and Louise.  It’s just Thelma here.

Knowing filmmaking locked onto a tight character-driven story kept me enrapt.

Note: Two Norwegian films within a month of one-another: what’s going on?  Is Norway the new France for film?

SPOILER ALERT:  I suggest watching only HALF of the trailer below.  It gives away too much.

8/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Donnie Darko, Sleeping Beauty, The Craft; Not recommended: Ich Seh Ich SehThe Square, Raw.  A number of similarities exist between Raw and Thelma.  Thelma is the right way to do it.

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Personal Shopper in a Double-Medium

Kristen Stewart as a personal shopper, yes.  A lackadaisical, blasé medium, no.

I’m not saying Stewart is a bad actress, but in no way shape or form did I buy her as any sort of psychic.  And I suppose I am saying it: she was just playing herself in Personal Shopper, down to her unmasked and incongruous tattoos.  It wasn’t pretty.  Kristen Stewart, I am certain, has zero psychic abilities, and her thinly veiled character didn’t either.

 

 

 

It’s nothing against Stewart, not personally or anything.  I liked her in last year’s Café Society and Certain Women.  She’s good when she’s playing herself.

Beyond all that, Personal Shopper was hurt by an incompetent filmmaking approach.  Not only did I not believe Kristen Stewart, I didn’t buy the vomited ectoplasm.  I mean really, if you’re trying to blend reality with the spiritual world take a cue from David Lynch.  Or at the very least Alejandro Iñárritu.  4/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): the Patricia Arquette series Medium was a vastly superior portrayal, and a convincing one, of the everyday working psychic.  Everyday, yet not blasé about it.  In movies we have: Sleeping Beauty, Drive, Safety Not Guaranteed, Antichrist, Twin Peaks FWWM, Wild at Heart, Vertigo, Belle de Jour

The Conjuring of Little Emotion

The ConjuringIf you’ve never seen a haunted house movie, The Conjuring might be scary to you.  For a standard haunt-flick, it’s relatively well executed.  But the problem is : The Haunting (1963), The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Paranormal Activity all exist.  So do The Ring, Cure, Drag Me to Hell, and The Uninvited.  And so do about 180,000 other haunted house / haunted spirit movies.  The Conjuring did not bring anything new to the party.

I think there is a core popularity to the haunted house movie that connects to the public’s obsession with Halloween.  It’s not that it’s that outlandishly scary to people, but they are entertained nonetheless.  My problem is that I’m not entertained.  It’s — as Simon Cowell would say — all a bit boring to me.  I’ve seen this a thousand times before, so all the flagellations, spasms and contortions in the world don’t get my juices flowing.  What excites me is a good scary story.

The Haunting-1963 poster medMost often the scariest movies are ones that are solidly non-supernatural.  Give me something truly “Insidious” like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Dead Calm, Orphan, or The Shining.

In The Conjuring, the house wasn’t that creepy, and a pseudo-historical context wasn’t taken advantage of, and neither was a very cool boggy backyard pond.  At the beginning we are informed that the movie is based on a true story.  Yea right.  There wasn’t even anything conjured, especially not fear.  3/10

Absolutely Sinister – NOT!

SinisterI kept wanting to watch Sinister when it was in theaters last year, because I like a good horror flick and I’m a fan of Ethan Hawke, but mixed ratings kept me away.  Now I understand the negative reviews.  It is your basic haunted house movie, but not a good one.  It’s highly unoriginal, not scary at all — except for the first scene, and at times farcically corny.  And it has a lot of “stupid” problems like the main character (Hawke) screaming his head off — multiple times — without waking any family members.

What I don’t get is that a lot of people thought this was a good movie.  A lot of people who supposedly are fans of the genre, which means they’ve seen good fantasy/horror/haunted spirit movies, can’t tell the difference.  Maybe the problem is that though there are a few standouts like The RingThe Shining, and Poltergeist, the vast majority of these movies are pretty bad.  So make yourself a fan of the genre and it all blends together.  Just a theory.

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity

For a much better haunted house movie, see Paranormal Activity (2007) if you haven’t already.  Or even if you have – Paranormal Activity a second time through is better than Sinister the first.  I looked back at my comments on Paranormal ActivityI had given it a 7/10.  Thinking more about it now, I’d say it was more scary than a 7 — so I’m bumping it to an 8.  Keep in mind I am talking about the original of the series; I have not seen any of the sequels.

On a positive note, I watched Sinister shortly before going to bed, and it certainly did not keep me from sleeping.  It just wasn’t scary.  2/10, which is generous.

* * *

This movie makes me rethink my opinion of Mama (2/10), because I didn’t dislike Sinister quite so much as to give it a 1 rating, and Mama was clearly better than Sinister.  I think Mama has got to be at least a 3 — still not recommended, but better than I originally thought given the genre.  It emphasizes how difficult it is to make good horror, especially of the supernatural variety.  Almost as difficult as good comedy.

Film Brief: Mama

There is a cabin in the woods, but Mama is no Cabin in the Woods — one of the best pictures of last year (see prior post & Best of 2012 list).  Mama instead is more along the lines of The Grudge — a couple startling “boo!” moments, but otherwise flat.  An asset I suppose is it does bring to mind the mystery and wonder of The Ring [prior post].  It’s too bad, because it’s a good premise, in concept anyway, gone to waste: two young sisters left to fend for themselves in the wilderness for five years, then the feral beings reintroduced to society.  Decent performances including the star Jessica Chastain, but it’s not worth it. 2/10.

The first two movies of 2013 have been baaad.  Hopefully the third one breaks the trend.

We Are Spirits… in the Material World

The last post focused on some excellent personal thrillers that stay in the ‘real world’.  Now for some movies that cross over into the super-natural.

First, a reminder of previous posts that highlighted films in this category, most notably The Ring.  And a comment on these type of movies:  The Ring is probably the best, scariest haunted spirit movie I have ever seen.  This is a genre I’m not necessarily a fan of.  I have seen so many previews where — at the end of the trailer — someone stares into a void and then, suddenly, out comes some sort of screaming banshee – a big ‘BOO’ moment.  Those ‘BOO’ moments can get tiresome, if for example it’s The Grudge and that’s all the movie can muster.

Screeching humanoid forms suddenly twisting and screaming out of the darkness:  One of the most scary things can be someone walking through a house where a tension exists — the tension of some evil bad guy about to pop out and catch the protagonist by surprise, no matter how prepared he may be.  This has got to be about the most Continue reading