Screened In Sundays: The Devil’s Backbone

Posted in Foreign, Horror, Screened In Sundays with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2012 by judsonw

One underseen gem every Sunday.

Before Guillermo del Toro brought us the magical tale Pan’s Labyrinth, the superhero chronicles of Hellboy, or almost took the director’s seat for The Hobbit, he made a little Spanish horror film called The Devil’s Backbone. Made back in 2001, the story takes place in an orphanage (doesn’t every Spanish horror movie?) set in 1939 and revolves around a young boy who moves in. Almost immediately, the young boy, named Carlos, starts hearing strange noises and even catches a glimpse of what he believes to be a ghost.

This story is much more complex and deep than a simple ghost story, which may explain why del Toro decided to reveal the ghost’s appearance so early on in the story. When Carlos starts to investigate the paranormal occurrences of the estate, he discovers some very dark secrets about the history of the orphanage. The Devil’s Backbone provides much more than a good scare – there’s a deeply affecting emotional story that may just catch you off guard.

Screened In Sundays: Trick r’ Treat

Posted in Comedy, Horror, Screened In Sundays with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2012 by judsonw

One underseen gem every Sunday.

I can count on my hand the number of legitimately great horror movies that were released in the past decade. When it comes to great Halloween horror movies, there’s not a huge library to choose from.  Trick r’ Treat is not only a great horror-comedy on its own, it’s also without a doubt the best Halloween movie ever made. Sure, Halloween is set on the famous holiday, but that movie isn’t really about the title’s namesake. Trick r’ Treat captures everything I love about Halloween – the spooks, legends, decorations, costumes, and the desire in people to be something they’re not.

The anthology is divided into four interwoven stories: an everyday high school principal has a secret life as a serial killer; a college virgin might have just met the one guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; a woman who loathes the night has to contend with her holiday-obsessed husband (thanks IMDB!). All the stories are somehow connected and they are all told out of chronological order. This makes for a fun viewing experience – when you spot something unusual you just know it’s going to come back in a big way to explain itself.

The movie’s cast is a fun bunch – led by a younger Anna Paquin and a hilarious Dylan Baker. Trick r’ Treat had a terrible journey to DVD/Blu-Ray and was completely left out of theaters because of behind-the-scenes squabbles. It’s a shame – moviegoers missed out on a truly unique Halloween experience.

Screened In Sundays: Before Sunrise/Before Sunset

Posted in Drama, Romance, Screened In Sundays with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2012 by judsonw

One underseen gem every Sunday.

The greatest “date” movie of all time may actually in fact be two films. This is because viewing Before Sunrise and Before Sunset back to back offers a truly memorable and inspired experience that may give you hope in the idea of “true love.”

The two films, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as strangers who form a relationship while traveling abroad, were shot 9 years apart, and the gap of time between the movies is consistent with the plot. In Before Sunrise the two randomly meet while on a train in Europe. Sensing a spark, the two decide to get off in Vienna and spend the night getting to know one another. What follows is literally a series of conversations as the two grow closer. It’s amazing how entertaining people simply talking can be, but when the dialogue is as enthralling as director Richard Linklater’s, it’s more exciting than a blow-em-up action flick.

Before Sunset reunites the two love birds 9 years later in Paris (wait…they didn’t live happily ever after?), and those 9 years have changed both of them significantly, for better or worse. The film is very similar to its predecessor, but something about it seems more profound. While the two were previously innocent young minds, they have now found themselves lost in lives that they didn’t necessarily expect to live.

Hawke and Delpy have never been better, and their chemistry is a delight to watch. While Hawke has had other memorable roles in different movies, I have a hard time separating Delpy’s other roles with her character in these two films. She’s just that good.

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are two movies that I always put on at least once a year, and always watch back to back. If you find yourself longing for a good love story (perhaps around Valentine’s Day) or just want to watch a superbly made movie, you can’t go wrong with these two gems.

Screened In Sundays: Let Me In

Posted in Drama, Horror, Screened In Sundays with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2012 by judsonw

One underseen gem every Sunday.

It’s incredibly rare that an American remake ends up being better than its foreign original, but with Let Me In, that’s the case. 2008’s Swedish Let The Right One In was and is a near-masterpiece, and fans understandably cried foul when the American remake was announced, as well as the filmmakers’ intentions to make the two leads older.

The story revolves around a young boy named Oscar who is a loner and on the verge of violently lashing back at his bullies. A young girl and older man move in next door from his apartment, but Oscar starts to notice strange things about the two neighbors. The windows are completely covered in cardboard, and the girl, named Abby, only comes out at night and smells weird. She’s also an ace at completing a Rubik’s Cube.  Yes…Abby is a vampire.

The American remake keeps everything that was so great about the original (the innocence of young love, spooky atmosphere, brutal bullying), and even brings more to the plate thanks to the talents of director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield). There is one sequence involving a car crash that may be one of the best filmed sequences in any movie of all time, and that’s no exaggeration.

The kids are played here by Kodi-Smit McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass) to perfection. It’s amazing that so much emotion can come out of such young people, but you really end up caring for these characters. Richard Jenkins was perfectly cast and is heartbreaking as Abby’s caretaker/father/who knows.

I love Let The Right One In…it’s one of my favorite movies of the past 5 years. But if I ever decide to experience this story again, I will almost always pop in its American remake.

Screened In Sundays: Fish Tank

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Screened In Sundays with tags , , , , , , , on August 26, 2012 by judsonw

One underseen gem every Sunday.

It’s rare to see a movie today with a strong female protagonist, let alone one who can fully take care of herself. In Fish Tank, Katie Jarvis plays Mia, a 15 year old girl who lives in the British equivalent of the projects. Mia has a lot of shit to deal with on a day to day basis, stuff that a normal teenager doesn’t have to deal with. Her mother is almost completely worthless, and her younger sister seems to be on a dark path. Mia’s relationship with the two of them is strained, to say the least.

Mia’s only vice in her loner life is dancing. She believes that one day she will be able to escape her sad life with her skills as a dancer, even though that dream is clearly a long shot. Her life takes a turn when her mother starts dating an Irish man played by Michael Fassbender. The two form a relationship that may or may not become inappropriate. Actions taken by both characters come the end of the film are both shocking and sad. It’s a great double performance by an acting vet and an inspired newcomer.

Screened In Sundays: Margaret

Posted in Drama, Screened In Sundays with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2012 by judsonw

One underseen gem every Sunday.

Director Kenneth Lonergan’s film has taken a long, arduous road to get into viewers’ homes, but it’s now finally available to the public. Shot back in 2005, the studios and filmmakers squabbled over god knows what, which prevented the film from ever getting a wide release. This is surprising because of its star studded cast. Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney, Mark Ruffalo, Kieran Culkin.

A pre-True Blood Anna Paquin plays the lead character of Lisa. Seemingly just an innocent bystander, Lisa witnesses a bus accident that ends a woman’s life. The movie goes down many different paths after the accident, but the story mainly focuses on Lisa’s struggle to make things right after she feels responsible for causing the accident. The biggest problem with this? Lisa is annoying as hell. And spoiled. And whiny. And self righteous. And just – ugh. She comes across as very unsympathetic as she makes everything that happens throughout the film about her.

While most movies could not survive such a grating protagonist, Margaret somehow manages to be interesting in every scene. This is kind of remarkable considering the movie is a 2 1/2 hour tale about a teenage girl’s struggles with her past, her family, her friends, and herself. The editing is often peculiar – scenes cut back and forth with no real rhythm or cohesion – which screams studio interference. Apparently, Lonergan originally wanted a 3 hour cut so I’m sure many characters’ arcs were either cut down or cut out completely (e.g. Broderick’s).

While Margaret is by no means a perfect film and is actually quite flawed, I couldn’t help but be sucked into every scene. The acting is superb on every level and the articulate dialogue kept my attention. A film that makes you question your personal views on life and death is always worth a watch.

Screened In Sundays: Mother

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Screened In Sundays with tags , , , , , , , on August 12, 2012 by judsonw

One underseen gem every Sunday.

After the well received Korean monster movie The Host, it was no telling what direction that director Joon-Ho Bong would take with his next film. Mother, which in my opinion far surpasses The Host, was a creation that I was not expecting.

A beautifully filmed and powerfully acted tale about a mother who will do anything to prove her son is not a murderer, actress Hye-ja Kim gives a performance for the ages – possibly one of the best portrayals of a mother in the history of film.

The story plays out like a mystery. The Mother’s son is accused of murdering a young girl early in the film. She refuses to believe such nonsense – this must be a false accusation. What makes the accusation interesting is the fact that her 28 year old son is mentally challenged and very calm mannered. The story goes through some twists and turns until it arrives at its shocking conclusion. But along the way, as the tagline reads, “she’ll stop at nothing.”

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