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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Thoughts on The Witch

I enjoyed seeing The Witch last month. It is a slow burn of a movie, and is about an isolated 1630s English family falling victim to their own religious hysteria and being tormented by a shape shifting witch. I liked that the movie felt really uncomfortable to watch, with a lot of tension, still moments, growing sense of dread, and horror without jump scares, showing more horror with the family turning on each other than the witch being overexposed.

The acting was fantastic, and I liked seeing a story that combined folklore and witchcraft with a story of a family going insane in a faraway time, it felt like a story that could really happen, of a family destroying themselves due to religious delusions and fear of the supernatural. The witch only made sporadic appearances, in human and animal forms, and was genuinely disturbing.

I was impressed by how well the actors spoke the Old English dialogue, but sometimes I had trouble following what was being said, especially with all the "thou, thee, thy, dost" talk. Some conversations were difficult to understand (as well with the characters' thicker regional accents), and I had to read a plot summary afterwards to catch up on parts I missed or didn't understand.

Also, while I liked the slow pace of the film, the story felt like it was a lot of buildup, as things just kept getting worse for the family. It did have a major climatic moment (which a little boy really acted the hell out of), but it still felt like the story was just adding more creepy moments rather than having a powerful third act. I saw the movie more as telling a folk tale with horror elements rather than being a straight horror film, and liked the feeling of being taken far in time to a story that seemed terrifying in its depiction of religious hysteria and family abuse. I highly recommend the film.

Thoughts on Danny DeVito

I really enjoyed reading this NY Times article about Danny DeVito's Twitter presence. I think he is an underrated dramatic actor, and thought of as too comic because of his shortness, his brash Italian-American Jersey accent, and being widely known as the Penguin or Frank Reynolds or other over-the-top comic characters. I was amazed by how great he was in Living Out Loud, a wonderful movie in which he plays a lonely yet optimistic doorman grieving the death of his daughter and the los...s of his marriage, and trying to find his way in life. I found him extremely endearing and relatable, and it is one of my favorite roles of his.

I also thought he was great in Jack the Bear (another dramatic role in which he played a widower father struggling with grief and keeping his family together), and I like that he has a very dark sense of humor, illustrated by the films he has directed (Matilda, Throw Momma From the Train, The War of the Roses, Death to Smoochy, Duplex). He is just a great actor and personality.

Thoughts on 10 Cloverfield Lane

I really enjoyed seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film directed by Dan Tratchenburg. I found it to be very intense and riveting. I went to see it because I saw that it was about a woman trying to escape from being held captive in a bomb shelter by a conspiracy theorist paranoid about a nuclear or alien attack above, and it starred two actors I really respect: John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

The film was very tight and captivating to watch, as most of it takes place in... the bomb shelter, with three players, and there are a lot of mental gymnastics to play as to whether or not there is an attack, as well as the motivations of Goodman's character Howard. He can be a paranoid control freak with good intentions, trying to protect the younger people from danger. In other scenes, he is a calculating monster, intimidating his captives into showing him "respect" after the "kindness" that he has shown them after saving their lives. Goodman is a well-respected and versatile actor, but sometimes he gets taken for granted as a supporting actor, seen as just consistently good. He hasn't had an Oscar nomination, and though the Oscars don't honor horror films much for acting performances, I think Goodman deserves special recognition for this study in character acting, not just as a villain in a thriller. He was just great in this in a chilling performance.

I don't want to say a lot about it, because I don't want to spoil the film, but I liked how the film kept the audience guessing, and were in the head of Winstead's character Michelle, a woman who wakes up after a car accident chained up in the bomb shelter with an injured leg. She is immediately skeptical about Howard's claims about saving her life before the attack, and keeps trying for a way out, trying to read the scene and play calmly while using her wits and senses to plot an escape. Winstead is someone who is really talented at finding the humanity and realism in a character, and losing herself in a character to find its nuances (much like how Goodman does here to great effect). I liked that she just kept fighting and didn't give up, but one could still see her mental anguish and frustration, she wasn't infallible. I just related to her character a lot, and it was due to Winstead's stellar performance.

John Gallagher, Jr. played Emmet, the other captive in the house, and I liked trying to figure out his background and motivation, like to catch a tell or a twist. Though I ended up being wrong about my predictions, I still liked trying to figure him out, as he seemed too innocent and nice on the outside to be believed at first (not acting-wise, more his motivations).

I liked that the film was uncomfortable to watch. It is more of a thriller and less horror in the boo-scare sense, but I prefer horror movies that are psychological and have monsters that aren't who you expect, it is more interesting.