HEREDITARY (2018)

July 4, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. I will forever carry this flame of hope for quality horror films since they were such a part of my childhood movie watching. It’s such an odd genre because the really good ones are quite rare, but the category in general is quite profitable. We enjoy being frightened and stressed … in the safety of a dark movie theatre with a few dozen fellow movie goers. This debut feature film from writer/director Ari Aster is filled with foreboding and dread – key elements to a successful horror film.

The clever filmmaker spends the first portion of the movie tricking/manipulating us into thinking this is going to be a “normal” ghost story – one we’ve seen before, albeit with a stronger than usual cast. Time and again I found myself thinking “this poor family”. Toni Collette plays Annie, mother of son Peter (Alex Wolff, brother to Nat and son of Polly Draper) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and wife of Steve (Gabriel Byrne). Some scenes are loaded with realistic family banter – the kind that’s a bit passive-aggressive and judgmental in tone. This adds to the unsettling mood of dread that cloaks most of the characters and most every scene.

Annie is an artist who creates miniature settings, and once she unloads her family history on an unsuspecting group therapy session, we are provided a big clue, as well as confirmation that the bad times aren’t over. When tragedy strikes again, the family seems beyond repair, as do the individuals. Peter is a seemingly normal teenage boy who likes to smoke weed, and dutifully lets his little (and slightly disturbed) sister Charlie tag along to a party since his mother asked. Ms. Shapiro is a revolution in the role – somehow simultaneously both creepy and sympathetic. Father and husband Steve is very patient, a trait that rarely pays off in horror films.

The family house makes for a terrific setting, especially considering the impressive treehouse that seems to always require a space heater. Ms. Collette fully commits to the role with all its grief and terror. It’s really her performance combined with a creative story that harkens back to THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY’S BABY, that allow the film to click. By the end, this family only wishes they were in a “normal” ghost story. And as a reminder, if you are born into a family where one member has a sleep-walking incident similar to what’s described here, you have every right to lock your door before going to sleep – that is, assuming you could ever sleep again.

watch the trailer:

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PATRIOTS DAY (2016)

January 12, 2017

patriots-day Greetings again from the darkness. Is it too soon? If not, is it too painful to revisit? Even if the time is right, is injecting a fictitious supercop into the horrific events an acceptable approach? Every viewer of the film will have their own answers to these questions, but clearly writer/director Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor) and Boston area native Mark Wahlberg believed now is the time and that this is the best way to re-create this catastrophe and its fallout.

Wahlberg plays Tommy Saunders, a Boston detective kicked back to uniform duty as penance for a run-in with another cop. His character is evidently a composite of multiple cops and first responders, and though he is the center of the film, the character is the weak link. He’s some type of supercop who never sleeps and manages to be literally everywhere something is happening … either the Boston Marathon finish line, FBI control center, the hospital interviewing survivors, or cruising the streets with his spotlight tracking down the bad guys.

Beyond Wahlberg’s character, the film does a remarkable job at re-creating the tragic events, the emotional and physical fallout, and the urgent law enforcement manhunt. Since it’s been less than 4 years, most every piece of this is fresh in our minds. We follow along from when the street cameras are used to identify the suspects all the way through the final capture from the backyard boat.

Another thing the film does well is tell the stories of certain individuals who were impacted. We experience the emotions of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), the preparedness and cool of Watertown Police Chief Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons), the highs and lows of MIT Officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking), the terror and courage of captive Dun Meng (Jimmy O Yang), and the focus and conflicts of Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) and FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon). There is also the story of survivors Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) and Christopher O’Shea (Patrick Downes), and a few others who we get to know a little bit.

The bombers/terrorists/brothers are played by Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, and no effort is made to sympathize or explain their actions. The closest we get is an argument in the apartment with the wife (played by Melissa Benoist) over the wrong type of milk. I will not use the real names here as I don’t believe in providing any publicity for such creators of evil.

The film successfully establishes the “normal” start to what seemed to be a “normal” day. Of course, April 13 2013 turned out to be anything but. We hear the Newtown tribute at the opening of the race, and we see David Ortiz with his color proclamation at Fenway Park. The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is always spot on with the mood, and the last 10 minutes are by far the most emotional … we hear from the real life survivors, first responders and others so crucial to that time. I may believe that this story would best be told in documentary form, but there is no denying that it’s a reminder of the power of love, and the spirit of Boston and America.

NOTE: why does it seem Michelle Monaghan is underutilized in almost every movie she appears? She is such a fine actress, but she rarely seems to get the screen time she should

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MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 (2016)

March 24, 2016

big fat2 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 14 years since the Portokolas family took over movie theatres, the box office, and casual conversation in most every social setting. I’ll readily admit that, despite my leanings toward more serious film fare, I was a huge fan of the 2002 surprise mega-hit. The movie was refreshing and observational, with commentary on proud cultures and helicopter parenting – but mostly it was funny. Bundt cakes and Windex will forever be a part of movie lore … as this sequel reminds us.

Given the Hollywood proliferation of sequels, re-makes and re-imaginings, the only thing surprising here is that it took so long for Wedding number 2. And yes, that is the only surprise. Nia Vardalos obviously wrote this script as a love letter to the fans of the original. It fits like a warm blanket – comfortable and familiar. The setting, the characters and the jokes … all familiar … yet still pleasant and easy to watch.

With that title, we know we are in for another Greek wedding. However, Toula (Ms. Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) have one daughter – 17 year old Paris (Elena Kampouris), and her big decision is whether to stay local for college or leave Chicago and the family for NYU. Since the wedding is not for the daughter, it falls to Toula’s parents. It seems Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan) have been living in sin for 50 years – all because the priest never signed the marriage certificate. Let the histrionics begin!

Director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee, Waking Ned Devine) stays true to the spirit of the Vardalos script and legacy, and much of the movie plays like one big inside joke for fans of the original. Windex make an appearance in each of the three acts, and we get a shot of decorated Bundt cakes, some exaggerated make-up and hair styles, and a steady stream of family members who just can’t help their propensity for being loud and up in everyone’s business.

Most of the original cast returns. Andrea Martin is back as scene-stealer Aunt Voula, and Mama-Yiayia (Bess Meisler) gets her usual “pop-ups” plus a touching moment in the wedding spotlight. New faces include Alex Wolff (brother of Nat, son of Polly Draper) as Paris’ prom date; and Rita Wilson (also a producer with her husband Tom Hanks) and John Stamos have a couple of scenes as a Greek couple; while Mark Margolis (“Breaking Bad”, “Better Call Saul”) appears as Gus’ brother from the homeland.

Nostalgia and familiarity are the keys here, and there is no reason to be overly-critical of a movie that is so pleasant and light-hearted. “There you go!”

watch the trailer: