Movie Review ~ You Are Not My Mother

The Facts:

Synopsis: Char’s mother goes missing in a North Dublin housing estate. When she returns, Char is determined to uncover the truth of her disappearance and unearth her family’s dark secrets.
Stars: Hazel Doupe, Paul Reid, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie, Jade Jordan, Jordanne Jones, Katie White, Aoife Spratt
Director: Kate Dolan
Rated: NR
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: If you’re a fan of horror like me and struggle to find something new to view, you’ve probably done something like what I try now and then.  You’ll search “Best Horror films on <insert streaming service> right now” and see what luck you have.  Between some obvious choices of mainstream fare making their debut on your service of choice, there’s always an unknown title that turns out to be a hidden gem.  The internet may be a cesspool at times, but this is a case when it is good for something.

This new Irish horror film from director Kate Dolan is one that I’m pretty sure will become part of this list once enough people get a chance to see it.  The title alone, You Are Not My Mother, has a lot of eye-catching heft to it, and, as it turns out, so does Dolan’s effective screenplay and creepy production.  Dolan gives her audience a nimble and rewarding ride by bringing you in with what you think are tropes associated with the straightforward family dynamic drama and then changing sharply into the richly detailed mythology of folk horror.  Local flavor in the performances elevates the picture further, making it an authentically felt experience.

Teenager Char (Hazel Doupe, The Shadow of Violence) is used the stares from the townspeople in her small Irish village.  After all, she’s the child of Angela (Carolyn Bracken), who is known for her mental health struggles over the years.  Bearing a visible scar on her face from one of her mother’s episodes, Char is mainly friendless and tries to make it through the day without attracting the attention of neighborhood bullies Suzanne (Jordanne Jones) and Kelly (Katie White).  Living with her grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie) eases some of the tension because she’s experienced with keeping an eye on Angela. Still, even Rita can’t explain where Angela has disappeared to now.  Unable to find her mother for days, there’s little anyone in the town can (or wants) to do to find her.

When Angela does return, something is different, and Char sees it right away.  The darkness that plagued her has lightened, the willingness to be involved is finally there, and the mother she wanted has returned.  Yet, this strange about-face doesn’t seem entirely correct, and a late-night peek between a door jam reveals to Char why she should be afraid of Angela…and what evil she has brought back with her.  As her mother tries to draw her nearer and bullies circle her like vultures, Char needs to rely on inner strength to battle her growing demons.

Dolan directs her first feature after spearheading several shorts over time. The result is a confident debut that draws out uniformly good performances, especially from Doupe and Jones as Char’s nemesis that, like all bullies, has more to her than meets the eye.  Giving these characters more personality and depth than usual helps create a real-world space for this horror to invade and more reason for audiences to invest time in wanting them to survive.  Despite some iffy special effects near the end, all of the playing field Dolan is working with in You Are Not My Mother has a ring of truth to it, so you can feel that chill up your spine just as much as the characters do.  This solid effort is one to watch for and not scroll by so easily.

Movie Review ~ The Burning Sea

The Facts:

Synopsis:  An oil platform dramatically goes down on the Norwegian coast, and researchers try to find out what happened when they realize this is just the start of something even more serious.
Stars: Kristine Kujath Thorp, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Anders Baasmo, Bjørn Floberg, Anneke von der Lippe
Director: John Andreas Andersen
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 104 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  For a while, Hollywood seemed to be getting the hang of the disaster film. Going back to the grandparents of the genre, The Poseidon Adventure in 1972 and 1974’s The Towering Inferno, there’s been a push-pull in the effort to balance dramatic situations with the large-scale action set pieces that get audiences to buy a ticket. The movie can’t be all special effects, so those interstitial scenes have to count for something. Otherwise, you’re just watching characters you don’t have any feelings for getting rocked by an earthquake, consumed by lava from an exploding volcano, or swept out to sea by a tsunami ripping through a seaside town. Reaching its apex in the early ’80s and then remerging when CGI was all the rage, these films are cycling back into favor, but Hollywood hasn’t quite landed on the right formula to make them as exciting as they were before. I mean, Moonfall was not a great movie, but it had its moments.

At least our friends overseas are happily still finding ways to destroy things at the same pace as ever before. The difference between them and us is that the dramatics come more naturally to our foreign friends, and it’s why their films are often a real thrill because, by the time the Big Event takes place, you can easily track the characters you want to see survive. That’s what drives the new Norwegian disaster on the ocean film The Burning Sea into a higher gear than others of its ilk, allowing screenwriters Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Lars Gudmestad to use the real-world situations as a framework and only marginally coloring outside the lines into the outlandish to create intense suspense.

A brief history of the oil business in the North Sea nestled close to Norway opens the film, showing the benign beginnings of what eventually becomes an environmental concern and danger to the men and women working on the rigs stationed miles offshore. William Lie (Bjørn Floberg, Kingsman: The Secret Service) started his career as one of those workers and has seen it all, making him a good representative of the blue-collar worker. As an executive at the oil company, he’s more aware of the bottom line than ever before; so when the unthinkable happens, and a huge platform rig collapses and sinks, trapping crew members on board, he’s forced into making decisions on saving lives or saving money.

Attempting to work his options, he calls in Sofia (Kristine Kujath Thorp) and Arthur (Rolf Kristian Larsen), local experts specializing in robotic submersibles that can go to extreme depths and report back any signs of life. Familiar with the risks taken not only because of the job but her relationship with a single father (Henrik Bjelland) working on a rig further down the line, Sofia can help the company get the answers, but not without raising more questions on future drilling in the area. All signals point to imminent dangers for the rest of the crews still out at sea, and when Sofia and Arthur’s theory proves correct, Sofia’s new love is placed on a deadly path with no outside means of help. Now they’ll need to work together to save the man before the government is forced into making a desperate decision that’s bigger than just their lives.

Building off the surprise success of 2015’s The Wave and its 2018 sequel The Quake, writers Rosenløw-Eeg and Gudmestad don’t let the pace of The Burning Sea (titled Nordsjøen in its home country) slack for a moment, even in land-based scenes. The decisions going on behind closed doors have equal amounts of tension, and with the eerie similarities to other natural disasters involving oil spills over the last four decades, it’s not hard to picture this fictional scenario in the realm of future possibility. The special effects that create the visual of this spectacle go a long way in the convincing as well. It’s not often you see the ocean cave in and swallow ships and other seemingly immovable objects from the surface into its abyss.

The performances often take a back seat to the action and effects in these films, but director John Andreas Andersen gets a stoic realism from his cast that never strays into mawkish dramatics. It could have quickly gone the other way, too. With the eyes of a fawn, the son of Sofia’s new boyfriend gets the closest to tipping the film into oversentimentality when everything seems to be at its bleakest, right around the time the government decides to set the oil slick on fire to prevent it from spreading inland. The rest of the cast valiantly rallies against having their “noble hero” moment, though the inevitable sacrifice for the life of another is eventually made.

It’s entirely possible audiences will find The Burning Sea and not know until it starts that it’s a foreign film, and I hope they keep with it. That’s how I found The Wave and while that one had its famously awful English dub to contend with, make sure to watch this one in its original language to get the full effect and for the beauty of the speech. More than your average disaster of the week extravaganza, The Burning Sea has a fiery intensity to its production and truth in its corner to offer viewers a rare voyage of genuine excitement.

The Silver Bullet ~ Honeymoon

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Synopsis: Young newlyweds struggle as their honeymoon spirals mysteriously into chaos.

Release Date: September 12, 2014

Thoughts: This low budget indie out of England probably won’t play in many theaters around the country and your best bet will be to catch this OnDemand or when it arrives at Redbox/Netflix.  I can’t vouch for how good this Honeymoon will be, but the makings are there for a tidy bundle of scares in the woods for our nubile couple hoping to celebrate their nuptials in seclusion.  I’m digging the poster and the early footage seen in the trailer and as a lover of these types of horror films, I’m hoping to love, honor, and obey this one in sickness and in health.

The Silver Bullet ~ Stage Fright (2014)

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Synopsis: A snobby musical theater camp is terrorized by a blood-thirsty killer who hates musical theater.

Release Date:  April 3, 2014

Thoughts: I’ve no illusions that Stage Fright will be anything more than a diversion of sorts from the recent patch of franchise horror films that Hollywood churns out at peak times each year.  Yet I can’t help but find that I enjoy this trailer for the slasher musical quite a lot, mostly because it’s clearly lampooning several different genres at once…walking the tightrope between taking itself too seriously and treading into Naked Gun-ny territory.  Clearly inspired by the Scream series and probably the minor cult hit Camp, Stage Fright could be the perfect treat for the musical theater nerd that loves horror films or the horror aficionado that doesn’t mind occasionally blasting a Sondheim tune.

The Silver Bullet ~ Big Bad Wolves

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Synopsis: A series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course

Release Date:  January 17, 2014 (limited)

Thoughts: You’d be forgiven if this preview for a gritty Israeli thriller reminds you a tad of the intense 2013 US film Prisoners (so good it made my Best of 2013 list) because the plot is eerily similar: an ordinary father and a dedicated cop are drawn to the dark side when investigating a horrendous crime against children.  Though Prisoners left little the imagination (but did it with some class), it looks a bit like Big Bad Wolves may take it a step further though I hope the same kind of restraint is exhibited by the filmmakers.  With a superlative endorsement from Quentin Tarantino, Big Bad Wolves could be a nifty breath of nasty crime drama air for audiences.

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 ~ Grand Piano

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Synopsis: Moments before his comeback performance, a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright discovers a deadly note written on his music sheet.

Release Date:  March 7, 2014

Thoughts: Taking more than a few choice notes from the likes of Hitchcock and De Palma (Passion), I’m hoping that Grand Piano is better than it looks.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a taut thriller set in a confined space where our lead had to figure out a way to escape death without tipping off the killer but I’m not sure if Elijah Wood has that everyman quality that made Cary Grant and James Stewart so appealing.  The trailer also makes the mistake of giving away the identity of protagonist which could be a risky move if there are no more surprises in store.  Arriving On Demand before a theatrical release, this is one that may go down easier from the comfort of your own couch.

The Silver Bullet ~ Best Night Ever

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Synopsis: A group of women go on a life changing adventure.

Release Date: January 31, 2014

Thoughts: I’m sure I’ve seen this movie before.  It was The Hangover (or The Hangover Part III), right?  Or was it Bachelorette?  Wait!  It was Spring Breakers.  Oh…it’s actually a new movie?  Hmmm.  Ok.  Though it’s billed as coming from the producers behind Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Conjuring this is supposedly a comedy but the laughs are scant in this first look at the low-budget Girls Gone Wild in Vegas exercise in Jackass-y taste.  At least one of the producers of this film knows how to market the hell out of his projects so he’ll  have his work cut out for him because based on the trailer it’s going to be a tough sell.

31 Days to Scare – I Saw the Devil (Akmareul boatda)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When his pregnant fiancée becomes the latest victim of a serial killer, a secret agent blurs the line between good and evil in his pursuit of revenge.

Stars: Lee Byung-hyun, Choi Min-sik, Oh San-ha, Kim Yoon-seo

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Rated: R

Running Length: 141 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:

Review:  Not for the faint of heart or weak of spirit, the 2010 Korean film I Saw the Devil is a button-pushing, stomach-churning descent into the shadows of revenge.

A bold and badass film from director Kim Jee-woon (The Last Stand), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect after reading some favorable reviews that contained warnings of the extreme violence within the 141 minute running time and nightmare-inducing scenes of torture.  Opening with a truly chilling scene involving a stranded female motorist and a seemingly good Samaritan that stops to help, it isn’t long before Jee-woon steers his ship through the heart of darkness and true evil by introducing us to the depraved madman (Choi Min-sik in a monumentally effective performance) that kills the pregnant fiancée of a Korean special agent (Byung-hyun Lee, Red 2).  Min-sik’s method of disposing of his victims culminates in scenes that will have you white knuckling it, daring yourself to keep your eyes open.

Had this been made in Hollywood there would surely have been the inclination to make the film about something more than the agent’s cold, bloody revenge and delirious pursuit of a killer,  but Jee-woon wisely strips away any excess fat and lets the movie build on its own merits of cinematic style and committed performances.

It’s the kind of film that will stick with you long after the final, devastating dénouement is made, leaving more innocent bystanders affected.  Not to be missed but do pay attention to the caveat of severe carnage and violence towards seemingly every woman that shows up on screen.

 

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.