Archive for the ‘5 stars’ Category

MV5BMTcyMDkyMDA4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjE5MDExMDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,676,1000_AL_Because come on.  Come on.  No one is going to give The Eyes of My Mother less than five stars.  I don’t care how contrarian you are; I don’t care how much you hate “artsy” movies; I don’t care how opposed you are to all that is beautiful and clear and flawlessly done in a world where the ugly, the graceless, and the inept are increasingly lionized.  If you give this movie fewer than the maximum number of stars, you know in your heart that you are lying; and furthermore, that you are a bitter, cane-shaking old coot who shouts at clouds about those damn kids and their stupid making better movies than your favs from the 70s.

You are the enemy of the grim, gorgeous, monochromatic world to come, less-than-five-star-giver.  You.

The Eyes of My Mother is not just an astonishingly beautiful movie, though it is that; the cinematography, lighting, framing, arresting visuals, and weird, creepy grace of Kika Magalhães as Francisca are reminiscent of the utter gorgeousness of 2015’s Darling, a film I had to watch a couple of times before I could really process anything other than how beautifully shot the movie was.  Like Darling – and other recent entries into the horror genre like The Witch and The Blackcoat’s Daughter – The Eyes of My Mother steers back away from an 80’s-style reliance on gore and jump scares into gothic Shirley Jackson territory, depending for its effect not on the sudden shrieking of violins but on the quiet, unrelenting awfulness of every minute of the movie.

Not that I don’t love gore and jump scares, because I do – and The Eyes of My Mother certainly has gore enough.  But it’s not an end in itself; it’s a means to tell a story about a young woman whose life is as genuinely awful a place to be for herself as it is for anyone else who comes into her orbit.  I’m not sure the genre has seen a character as simultaneously horrifying and sympathetic as Francisca since Norman Bates, and while I doubt that appreciation of The Eyes of My Mother will be as widespread as appreciation of Psycho (because the world is a crappy place full of terrible non-five-star-giving people), I hope very much that it will be as deep and as long-lived.

So what’s the verdict?  Five stars.  If you do not love this beautiful, skillful, queasily heartbreaking movie, then you and I cannot be friends because you have no soul and you probably like tract houses with popcorn ceilings.  Go on about your wretched, empty  existence and watch Honey Boo Boo instead.


MV5BMTY2NTQ3NTEzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzA0MzY1OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_I put off watching The Blackcoat’s Daughter/February for all the usual reasons – release delays and renaming followed by limited festival release and direct-to-VOD do not usually bode well for a movie.  After seeing it, I’m a little annoyed about all the tribulations this movie had to go through to make it to my TV.  And I’m not entirely down with the renaming – The Blackcoat’s Daughter is  a more attention-getting name, I guess, but February is the name of this film’s soul.

Because let’s face it: despite a game attempt by Hallmark to shoehorn a feel-good consumer holiday into middle of it, no good comes of February-the-month.  February is an icy, desolate stretch of desaturated misery; winter has long outstayed its welcome, spring isn’t even a faint glimmer on the horizon, and everyone around you has started to look pale, hollow-eyed, and just a little bit unhinged.  February the Movie, February-the-month made celluloid, is captured with stunning viscerality in this movie.

The plot is irksomely difficult to describe without giving away the course of the movie, and the course of the movie is really something you should witness on its own terms.  Briefly, two girls (Lucy Boynton as Rose and Kiernan Shipka as Kat) are stuck at a boarding school as winter break begins, Rose because she put off her parents’ arrival and Kat for more ambiguous reasons.  Some distance away, a very obviously disturbed young woman named Joan (Emma Roberts) escapes from a hospital and hitches a ride toward the school with middle-aged couple Bill (James Remar) and Linda (Lauren Holly) in a Car Ride of Creepy so unsettling that I honestly didn’t know who to yell at to get out of the car.  (Particular kudos are warranted for Holly, who delivers a dead-voiced monologue while in shadow, half turned toward a camera in the back seat, that’s one of the most disturbing and arresting things in the movie.)  Also, there is Satanic possession, but that’s honestly the least of anyone’s worries.

Watching these plot threads come together reminded me a great deal of watching Shutter Island‘s slow descent to a terrible and relentlessly logical end: when you get there, nothing is surprising, everything is awful and inevitable, and nothing is left but the small, cold satisfaction of seeing the glass spray fall into place on the freeway.

I read a review that described The Blackcoat’s Daughter as “a tone poem about loneliness and loss.”  And it is, right up to the haunting and powerful last shot.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow burn done right – not the sort of “slow burn” that means you can ignore the screen until the last ten minutes and still have a pretty good idea what’s going on, but the kind where the creeping dread takes hold in the first scene and never quite lets go.  The cinematography, vaguely Kubrickian, is gorgeous and faintly disorienting.  Everyone in the small cast comes across as just… not quite right, in ways that remind me of how Rosemary’s Baby is described by people who like Rosemary’s Baby.   Like The Witch and The Babadook, it’s a nearly flawless example of a recent trend in horror movies that I’m all in for – the retreat from Eli Roth to Shirley Jackson, moving away from splatter films that are shocking but not really relatable and back to stories where the horror isn’t just voyeuristic but deeper and more existential.  I hope there are more like it coming.

So what’s the verdict?  Five stars.  I started out not expecting much from this movie; two hours later I was one stiff gin and tonic away from going out to collar strangers in the street and demand that they watch it.  Do not do what I did and let The Blackcoat’s Daughter languish in your Amazon rental queue.  You should probably just pre-order the bluray, because it looks like this going to be a film that only gets deeper and more disturbing with subsequent viewings.

Last night, a film society in Philadelphia held an outdoor double feature amongst the graves of Laurel Hill Cemetery, one of the most hands-down impressive historic cemeteries outside of Père Lachaise.  First up was a home movie from the 1930s that randomly had footage of an exhumation at the cemetery.  (Sadly, this sounds more exciting than it was.  Maybe you had to watch it where you could really see what was going on, and without annoying color commentary from random people.)  The second movie?  Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Oh, Plan 9.  Is it even possible to rate?  On what basis is it even reviewable?  Zero stars for the epic failure in all elements belonging to a movie; five stars for the cult classic status and sheer whack-ass charm.  This is not merely a bad movie.  This is a movie that is so bad that it’s engaging in a way that escapes every schlock filmmaker currently in Hollywood.  Uwe Boll would slit his wrists over a cheap Pier One chalice and offer up six pints of blood to the devil if his movies could keep a mob of people uncomfortably seated on tombstones enthralled right up until the fade to black like this.

For those of you who know the movie exists but don’t actually know what it’s about, the plot (so to speak) is this.  An alien race decides that Earth has gotten too technologically advanced in their weaponry and is now at grave risk of destroying The! Entire! Universe!.  The Tallest of this alien race sends Alien Dude and Alien Chick, resplendent in their silver lamé pajamas, to… well, do something.  I can’t decide whether they want to destroy the Earth or convince every government official to be Facebook friends with them.  I think they tried peaceful contact first but the governments annoyed them so now they’re buzzing Los Angeles with UFOs.

They also have Plan 9.  No, we are not told what happened to plans 1 through 8.  Plan 9, as far as I can tell, consists of raising the dead and eventually having them march on the White House in a sort of Million Zombie March For Peace.  Fortunately, some woman has just died (Vampira, whose unfortunate turn here mostly makes you wonder who decided to bury her in that dress).  Her husband (Bela Lugosi) is grief-stricken for about thirty seconds until he walks in front of a car.

His funeral, by the way, is a comic tour de force rendered all the more sublime by its clear influence on such later film moments as the clown car full of atheists in Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter and, I don’t know, probably something in The Godfather.  I would tell you about it but I don’t want to spoil it.  Ordinarily I don’t care much about spoilers, but Plan 9 is so full of awesome little gems like this that you really have to come to unawares for their full effect.

Anyway.  The aliens try to control Vampira, Bela Lugosi, and some huge pro-wrestler dude.  They are, um, not good at it.  Eventually they are tracked back to their lair by a posse consisting of Police Lieutenant, Pilot Dude, Idiot Cop, Random Army Guy, and Pilot Dude’s Wife, who is constantly referred to as “the girl” despite the fact that she’s got to be in her 30s.  In the expository scene to end all expository scenes, Alien Dude reveals that humanity is on the verge of building a super weapon that will somehow blow up the sun.  Because of particles.  Then that will destroy everything the sun’s light reaches, which is The! Entire! Universe!.  There was a metaphor about a tennis ball.  I don’t know, Alien Dude’s physics were kind of suspect.  Then he has sort of a nervous breakdown and the UFO randomly catches on fire.

There is not a single moment of this movie that is not staggeringly incompetent, and you will be entranced anyway.  I was genuinely invested in whether or not Idiot Cop was going to manage to get himself killed.  And what was going to befall the adorable tinfoil UFOs.  And whether Vampira would at any point have anything more to do than wandering around with her arms stuck out in front of her and “Do I need to pick up milk at the store?” written all over her face.  And how many times the footage of Bela Lugosi walking through a graveyard would be reused.

This movie is something everyone should experience at least once.  In a graveyard, if you can swing it, with gorgeous monuments towering against the sky all around and the threat of a storm overhead.  That just adds to the ambience.

So what’s the verdict?  Fuck it, I’m giving Plan 9 five stars.  Yes, you heard me.  It’s a jaw-droppingly atrocious movie but a rollicking good time, and I like to reserve the 0-star rating for movies that make me hate humanity.  See it; you won’t be sorry.

One of the horror genre’s most profound and inexplicable mysteries is why The Uninvited has yet to rate a US DVD release.  It’s a classic that in places is capable of holding its own against the 1963 The Haunting; beautifully shot, gorgeously candlelit, and utterly creepy.  If it has a flaw, it’s that the romance plot is weaker than the ghost story and has a tendency to arrive on the doorstep as a distraction just when the fear factor is starting to ramp up.

But that’s if you concede that the film has flaws.  Which I do not, because: Flawless.

Siblings Rick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey)  fall in love with a mansion off the coast of Cornwall and buy it more or less on impulse.  The owner is a crotchety old bastard named Colonel Beech (Donald Crisp) whose one redeeming feature is his granddaughter, the adorable and dorky Stella (Gail Russell, reminding me weirdly of Shanna Collins in last night’s disaster-of-the-week, The Haunting of Molly Hartley).  It was Stella’s mother who owned the house, until she took a header off the cliff.  Stella hasn’t been back since because her grandfather pitches twenty kinds of assfit every time she goes near the place.

I try not to be bitter when people in movies are somehow able to afford to live in places like this.  It doesn’t usually work.

Rick goes back to London to make his telecommuting arrangements and returns to find an AWOL dog and a freaked-out sister.  Also, the housekeeper’s cat refuses to go upstairs and nearly takes Rick’s arm off when he tries to push the issue.  Soon enough, Rick finds out that the reason his sister is a bit on edge is the ghostly weeping that echoes through the house right before dawn.

The scenes with Rick and Pam standing at the top of the stairs looking down into all that dark, listening to someone crying in an empty house, are remarkably effective considering that (or because) the only special effect involved is some sort of echo around the audio.  I love those scenes because the two of them are so clearly at a loss.  They do pretty much what any of us would do under the same circumstances – stand around going “Um, I feel I should be doing something about this.  I just don’t know what.”  You can’t quite believe it’s a ghost, and yet; down there in the dark, something is crying.

Inviting Stella over for dinner proves disastrous.  She gets upset in the creepy studio that depresses everyone and nearly flings herself off the cliff.  She comes out the other side convinced that the ghost haunting the house is her mother.

Of course, it isn’t quite that simple, because The Uninvited is gothic horror from start to finish.  There are deep secrets about some sort of strange menage a trois between Stella’s parents and one of her father’s models.  There’s Stella briefly being shunted into a sanitarium run by a batshit insane former nurse with a creepy obsession with Stella’s mother.  And there’s a seance scene that all other movie seances could benefit from studying, because it is seriously unnerving.

Back in the day, we didn’t have those newfangled Ouija boards.  We made do with wineglasses and refrigerator magnet letters.  And we were GRATEFUL!

The Uninvited is one of the classics of the haunted-house genre for good reason, and more filmmakers should study it.  You can watch the 1999 remake of The Haunting by the hour and never be more than vaguely impressed by the sheer level of effort that must have gone into the CGI, but The Uninvited has only one thing that even looks like proto-CGI: the ghost, which is only seen a handful of times and is weirdly reminiscent of the things that came out of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders.  The rest comes from the viewer’s imagination and a handful of trick shots.  Candles gutter for no reason.  Flowers wilt before your eyes.  Pets want nothing to do with the upstairs.  Something keeps making the rooms smell like flowers – or making them cold as ice.

I’m not going to lie, The Uninvited was made back before everyone in the country needed Ritalin, so if you prefer fast cuts and jump scares to slow builds, this movie might not be your speed.  But if it is, and if you have a chance to catch it on TNT at Halloween, don’t miss it.

So what’s the verdict? Five stars.  Gorgeous, creepy, flawless. I feel all restored and ready to jump back into the gauntlet of iffy indie movies and craptacular big-studio releases.  Now how about a digitally remastered DVD release?

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