31 Days to Scare ~ Witch Hunt

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In a modern America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, a sheltered teenager must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico.

Stars: Gideon Adlon, Abigail Cowen, Christian Camargo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Echo Campbell, Lulu Antariksa, Ashley Bell, Sadie Stratton

Director: Elle Callahan

Rated: NR

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Warts on noses, pointy hats, green skin, broomsticks, cauldrons boiling over with toil and trouble, and black cats as their only companions…boy, witches have sure had it hard over the years and that’s just in the plain old nursery rhymes and kids’ stories that are told time and time again.  In the movies, they’ve gotten a real bum rap and it’s been awhile since the spell casting dames have had a film that took them somewhat seriously released widely (or to widespread acclaim).  An updated take on The Craft was better than expected and while it disappointingly came and went without much more than a puff of smoke, with its diverse casting it did signal there was space being made for different kinds of stories to be told.

In this new era that bolsters post-modern feminism, it would seem that Elle Callahan’s Witch Hunt would make for a good entry into this canon of new witchy business but alas, the high concept devised is rendered null because while it attempts holding a mirror to important subjects through the supernatural, it only winds up fogging it up thanks to its own hot and heavy breathing.  Undone but its own thesis, despite game performances and so-so production values, Witch Hunt dissolves faster than a love spell cast by the harvest moon’s dying light. 

High school student Claire (Gideon Adlon) is having recurring dreams of a woman being burned at the stake and it’s no wonder why she’s on edge with this dramatic horror foretold.  Her mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell, The Purge: Election Year) has made a practice of using their out of the way California country home to harbor witches being hunted down by ruthless government agents (including head bad guy Christian Camargo, Europa Report) who has banned their kind.  The arrival of two new young witches sparks something in Claire, awakening powers deep down that she’s been too scared to admit were growing.  Grappling with wanting to lead the life of a normal teen but knowing she has a responsibility to protect her family, Claire learns more about history to secure her future.

No one should have to point out the kind of appalling blunders Witch Hunt makes drawing parallels between a fictionalized modern world where magic is all around and witchcraft punishable by death and real events like abolitionism and the Holocaust. (Hello! Hiding people persecuted by the government in walls and smuggling them through secret networks.) Adding insult to injury, the movie is painfully white so the connecting of these dots is all the more cringeworthy. 

One shouldn’t fault the actors for these stumbles, and all make a decent showing throughout.  Callahan, who also directed the at-first intriguing but ultimately flat thriller Head Count, should have explored more outside the box and been as creative with her cast as she was in concept.  Even with a limited budget this could have worked better with more of an overall recognized conscience.  While it’s not all together scary per se and does stray into aimless territory halfway in, the production quality is higher than you might expect.  If only it wasn’t so problematic in its execution.

Movie Review ~ Europa Report

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon.

Stars: Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copley, Embeth Davidtz, Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Anamaria Marinca

Director: Sebastian Cordero

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: For all the big budget sturm und drang blockbusters coming out of Hollywood nowadays, it’s nice to be reminded that good films can still be made on smaller budgets.  Now, we all know that an indie comedy or drama could be produced for next to nothing but what about a science fiction film taking place in a galaxy far from earth?

That’s the first question I had when I saw the preview for Europa Report, director Sebastian Cordero’s thoughtfully meditative sci-fi morsel, back in early 2013.  I’d recently come off of a run of impressive space set features (like the exquisitely designed and audience dividing Alien prequel Prometheus) so even though my interest was piqued my eyebrow was raised in a most questioning manner.

Ten minutes into the film and I knew Cordero had a winner on his hands, a film with the dramatic thrust of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the hidden unknown of The Abyss, and the threat of danger of the aforementioned Prometheus.  Though small in scope the film is an impressive achievement considering the budget was less than 10 million dollars, didn’t boast any big name stars, and was released during the busy summer months when films like Iron Man 3 and Fast & Furious 6 were ruling the charts.

The set-up is mostly hum-drum with a crew of six traveling to a moon of Jupiter to investigate any signs of life.  As these missions often go, the crew encounters as many troubles getting there as they do when they arrive including damaged equipment, sensory deprivation, in-fighting, and arguing over who drank the last serving of Tang (OK, that last one doesn’t happen but I can’t imagine after a year in space something similar wouldn’t occur).

What makes the film come to life is how Cordero works with his resources to make his movie not just another C-grade space set adventure.  There’s a consideration for savvy moviegoers who don’t necessarily want their sci-fi with lasers and slimy slimeballs but would appreciate an esoteric space journey that has mysteries of its own.  Revealing more would damage the impact so let’s just say not everyone onboard gets a chance to marvel at Jupiter’s vistas with their colleagues.

A gathering of international actors like Sharlto Copley (Open Grave, Elysium), Michael Nyqvist (Disconnect, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Embeth Davidtz (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Amazing Spider-Man), and others gives the film a believably United Nations feel with each actor making the most out of their finely drawn characterizations.

When it starts to deal less with the unknown and more of the known the film loses a bit of its built up steam but the majority of its trim 90 minutes keeps you invested in the mission and the fates of the crew.  The production design is rich, whether the audience is watching the actors on earth, in their shuttle, or venturing out into the black darkness and it’s compounded nicely by just right special effects from several VFX studios (Phosphene, Method Studios, Look Effects, Perception, Quadratic Digital).

This is a film with a brain and one that may turn off those looking for a more action-packed outer space adventure (for that, make sure to see Gravity in 3D) instead of a smaller, slower-paced film that takes its time arriving at the final destination.

After a small release in theaters and OnDemand, Europa Report is available on most streaming services.  It’s one you’ll want to add to your queue if you like your sci-fi without a bunch of spiny aliens gnashing their gooey teeth at Sigourney Weaver (which, incidentally, I’m always a fan of).

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The Silver Bullet ~ Europa Report

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Synopsis: A crew of international astronauts are sent on a private mission to Jupiter’s fourth moon.

Release Date:  August 2, 2013

Thoughts: OK…it’s long been established that I have a weak spot for futuristic sci-fi films that explore some distance realms of space.  So far this year we’ve had Oblivion, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and by the end of the year we’ll see how Gravity and Elysium stack up.  I’m cautiously interested in this indie flick with an impressive trailer that feels like it might be better than the final product (I’m looking at you Apollo 11).  I’m such a sucker that I know I’ll seek this one out when it’s released OnDemand in June and in limited release in August.