Thelma (2017): Low Key Norwegian “Carrie” With a Twist (Review)

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Co-written and directed by Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt was the other writer who helped on the  screenplay, Thelma is a slow paced, almost languid twist on Stephen King’s “Carrie.” Starring the achingly beautiful Eili Harboe, this suspenseful horror film includes key elements that are present in King’s tale of repression, telekinesis and religion.

The film can also be seen as being influenced by the Richard Matheson tale “It’s a Good Life.” This Twilight Zone story (directed by James Sheldon) dealt with a young boy on a farm who holds his “terrified family” hostage with his incredibly powerful mental ability. The lad, played brilliantly by a young Billy Mumy, can literally “think” someone out of existence if they annoy him.

Thelma has mental powers but they have been repressed with a brand of zealous religion practiced by her family. When the girl goes off to college and starts to fall in love, the power re-emerges with a vengeance. Just before leaving her family, Thelma (Harboe) has a seizure and these become more prevalent at school.

We see the young woman cautiously spreading her wings as she meets Anja, played perfectly by Kaya Wilkins) and as the two become infatuated with one an other, Thelma has an increase in seizures and some disturbing visions/dreams.  Eventually she goes to a doctor for help and discovers that her grandmother, whom she believed was dead, suffers from the same problem. 

After being tested for epilepsy, Thelma tracks her grandmother down and starts remembering a tragic event from her childhood. Her father, Henrik Rafaelsen, a general practitioner, starts treating Thelma as her mother (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) uneasily watches from the sidelines. 

Thelma can be seen as a loss of innocence film, or a “coming of age” tale. Regardless of how the viewer opts to interpret this story, it is beautifully filmed and splendidly executed. At just under two hours, the film is a long one, but it never bores or drags.

The sequences where Thelma seeks help from the medical community do crawl but despite this, interest in the young protagonist does not wander. Trier gives us a plot and storyline that teases with flashbacks and ethereal connections between Anja and Thelma.

Harboe as the naive Thelma gives us just the right amount of wonder and dread as she starts to grow up outside the influence of her strict parents. We learn, as the film progresses, just why Trond and Unni keep close tabs on Thelma; they are already aware of what she is capable of doing.

The horror here is very low key. However,there are moments where it strikes fear right into the heart of the audience. These are not jump worthy moments by any means but the instances, a drowning and a moment underneath an icy lake, reduce us to a primal horror that stays long after the moment appears on screen.

Thelma, unlike “Carrie,” gives us a protagonist that is not a victim but is, rather, a young woman who has lived a sheltered life. There is a reason behind her earlier protected existence. This helps us to develop an empathy with the young girl and her increasing confusion.

This is a full 5 star film that grabs the viewer and draws them slowly into the world of Thelma. Norwegian, indeed Slavic films in general, are, at the moment, top notch and well worth sitting through, despite having subtitles. Check this one out as soon as you can.

Longmire (Season 6) Episode 2: Fever (Review)

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The second episode of Longmire, season six, finds Henry recovering from his ordeal at the Crow reservation. Walt is still facing the wrongful death lawsuit and he starts investigating what happened to his best friend.

Meanwhile, crime continues in the county. A man whose land is a popular place for treasure hunters ends up dead. The solitary man also has cash hidden all over his cabin. Walt has Ferg and Vic start chasing down leads and he stops by Cady’s office to tell her that Jacob Nighthorse must be involved with Henry’s near murder.

This episode features a fair amount of guilt, greed and not a little obsession. Cady’s guilt at possibly aiding Nighthorse to hurt Henry and a man’s stepfather’s guilt at falling out with his son.  After finding the dead man, with all that cash, someone turns up at the station and reports that his brother has gone missing.

Walt heads to a treasure hunters base camp, with the missing man’s brother and asks if anyone has seen him. Longmire bumps into Lucien Connally at the camp and the two men talk about Walt’s court case and why Connally is hunting for treasure. Lucien tells Longmire that he has pretty much figured out where the treasure is really hidden.

Vic finds the dead man’s will, handwritten and not necessarily legal, and they learn who Kayson has left all that cash to. The missing brother uses his credit card at a local hardware store and Cady visits Jacob. It is not a friendly visit and she beats her boss with the stakes that were used to trap Henry.

Walt freaks out when he sees what looks like Malachi Strand’s car and Cady goes to tell her father about confronting Nighthorse. She finds Henry at the Longmire cabin and they talk about Jacob and her attack on Nighthorse.

Lucien suggests that Longmire settle let of court and Walt explains that he tried. He also tells Connally about the murder and asks for his former mentor and friend to help out. Ferg reveals that the missing man never used the credit card. He also tells the two men that the man’s ex-wife used the card.

Walt, and Ferg, force the base camp to search for the missing man and they find him; dead at the bottom of a small cliff. Travis pushes to become more involved with Vic and the baby. During the search, Walt finds that someone returned to the dead goat farmer’s small graveyard and dug up whatever was buried in a grave.

That someone turns out to be Lucien. Walt calls Vic, in the middle of her ultrasound, and she cuts her appointment short. Travis gets upset and asks if Longmire even knows if Vic is pregnant. Walt finds the murder weapon buried in the woods.

Lucien turns up at Longmire’s office with the box he dug up at the farm and Walt works out that the missing man’s brother is the murderer. Henry and the sheriff confront Jacob. Nighthorse gives Walt the doctored books that prove Malachi’s dirty dealings at the casino. He then paraphrases “Jaws” by saying “We need a bigger search party.”

When Walt asks why Jacob is willing to help now, he replies that he more afraid of Malachi than Longmire. Travis turns up and tells Walt that Vic is pregnant. The concerned man has an engagement ring that he intends to give Vic if Walt doesn’t do the right thing.

The obsession in this episode of Longmire reminds us of Walt obsession with Nighthorse and Malachi Strand. Travis’ obsession is still Vic, the dead man’s brother is obsessed with finding the treasure; enough to murder for it, and the stepson is all caught up in hating his former step father.

Greed is covered by the missing man’s brother and all those reluctant helpers out at the treasure hunting basecamp. The guilt belongs mostly to Cady, who feels that Nighthorse betrayed her and put Henry’s life in danger as a result.

This final season of Longmire, especially this episode, makes a huge effort to turn Strand into the bogeyman. Even Nighthorse confesses that he is scared of his former chief of security. This episode also starts to focus on the relationship between Vic and Walt Longmire.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer(2017): Stilted and Wooden Horror (Review)

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While the story of The Killing of a Sacred Deer is interesting and different, the execution leaves much to be desired. Leaden acting, wooden dialogue and line deliveries that feel stilted all make this odd horror film feel fake and throws one out of the tale being told.

Colin Farrell appears to be sleepwalking through his role as a surgeon whose drunken mistake costs a man his life. Despite speaking in his “native tongue” the Irish actor  comes across as disinterested, bland and disaffected.  The entire cast, with the exception of Nicole Kidman and Alicia Silverstone suffer from the lackluster delivery that writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos seems to expect in his films. 

In The Lobster (Another Farrell vehicle.) the dialogue was equally unenthusiastic but with the surrealistic setting and theme it almost fit. Here, in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it serves to take the viewer out of the film and it destroys whatever ambiance is needed to sell the horror of the situation.

The film shows young Martin (Irish actor Barry Keoghan) insinuating himself into Dr. Murphy’s life. Murphy accepts the young man  and introduces him to his wife Anna (Kidman), daughter Kim and his son Bob. In return, Murphy is introduced to Martin’s mum, the widow of the man that Murphy  killed.

(Alicia Silverstone plays the disturbed and somewhat twitchy woman in a delicious cameo performance that outshines everyone else in the film.)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer could have been a masterpiece. The setting, the use of discordant music and an interesting plot could have worked brilliantly had the performances not taken away from the film. Lanthimos destroys whatever affect the weirdness of the tale could have had by having his actors throw the viewer out of any disturbing moments.

The characters themselves do not appeal either. Kidman’s Anna is self serving and cold. The surgeon appears to lack any sort of feeling and their kids are  unlikeable. To be fair this is down more to the delivery of their lines rather than any particular shortcomings of the script.

We never learn too much about Murphy or his family before Martin starts his attack. For example, there is no reason given for his insistence that his wife lay stock still during sex and we are reluctantly given the backstory between the surgeon and Martin.

The film shambles along with too little information and not enough time spent on the two main characters. Interaction between Martin and the Murphy family follows the same wooden direction as the dialogue and we never buy into any of the emotions, or the lack thereof,  being shared with the audience.

When things start going wrong with Murphy’s children we literally do not care. Neither child comes across well like their father they suffer from a lack of emotion or nuance in any of their lines. It is as if removing anything remotely resembling a personality was top priority of the director.

The fact that Silverstone, in her “blink and you’ll miss it cameo,” comes out head and shoulders above the rest of the cast makes one wonder if Lanthimos allowed someone else to helm the picture that day.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer could have been a 5 star effort. Instead it is a dull and shambolic attempt at psychological horror that fails abysmally. Give this one a miss…

 

Wonder Wheel (2017): Woody Allen’s Swan Song (Review)

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Despite having Oscar winning Brit actress Kate Winslet on board,  along with fellow Brit performer Juno Temple, Wonder Wheel feels too much like Woody Allen’s swan song in the world of film. Set in 1950’s Coney Island, the film, written and directed by Allen, is part nostalgic remembrance of a by-gone era and part semi-autobiographic nuance.

Despite a stellar cast that includes Jim Belushi and Justin Timberlake, Wonder Wheel is sheer drudgery on celluloid. It is difficult to watch and bogs down repeatedly in several areas. The dialogue, complete with heavy accents and stilted delivery, feels forced and overdone.

Timberlake sounds like he is doing a Woody Allen impression, while Belushi; who is loaded down with an awkward character and dialogue that is   old fashioned and more suited to a amateur dramatics society than a huge film, struggles to make his Humpty feel real.

Humpty (Belushi) is a carousel operator at Coney Island. His wife Ginny (Winslet) has a boy from another marriage and is a former “actress.” Carolina (Temple) is Humpty’s child from his first marriage and she is on the run from her husband; a gangster.

Mickey (Timberlake) is narrator of the film and a lifeguard who is having an affair with the older Ginny. He meets, and falls for, Carolina. The end result is a messy-ish love triangle that ends in tears for all involved.

All these characters are shallow and somewhat two dimensional. Humpty is built up to be a real punch-happy ogre when he drinks. Yet, when he does hit the sauce, never lives up to his billing. Carolina is trying to escape her hoodlum husband and Ginny lives in the past.

The only part of the film that feels legitimate occurs when Ginny describes how she feels about working at the clam house at Coney Island. The unhappy woman, who suffers from migraines, explains that she is playing the role of waitress at the eatery. It is the one moment of truth in the entire film.

There are parts of the film that can be seen as autobiographical. At one point Ginny tells Humpty that he treats his daughter like his “girlfriend” and that when she “dump’s him” again he will be miserable. A little too close to something that one can image Mia Farrow saying to Woody Allen in real life.

None of the characters in the film are likable. We do sympathize to some degree with Ginny; burdened with a son who is a firebug, but none of these people come across as real. Each relationship seems forced and laborious. Wonder Wheel seems more like a stage play than a film.

The actors all either over-act or “under” act. Belushi never really seems to have a handle on Humpty and Winslet goes all “Blanch Dubois” when Woody’s alter ego Mickey, chooses the wrong skirt in the last half of the film.

Wonder Wheel  is not an enjoyable film to watch. While Woody Allen has managed to deliver consistently on his “niche” films, this time he comes up short. The tale is not up to par with his past works and one wonders if perhaps the filmmaker should not hang up his pen and camera.

Winslet manages to make the most of her drama queen role as Ginny and Temple shines equally well as the mixed up youngster who married poorly. Belushi and Timberlake are miscast and the film itself limps to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Wonder Wheel is a shaky 3 star film that annoys rather than entertains. Give this one a miss…It really does feel like Woody Allen’s swan song.

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Justice League (2017): A Step in the Right Direction (Review)

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Justice League, the latest DC superhero film to grace the screen, almost has the mixture down pat. Perhaps a tad too much as the film does feel a bit formulaic. Still, this latest comic book hero adaptation is huge step in the right direction. There is just enough comedy to make things enjoyable and enough action to keep even the most jaded fan happy. The film is not, however, perfect.

The decision to make Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller) not only gormless but slightly nebbish as well, reeked of Marvel’s inclusion of an overawed Spider-Boy in the latest installment of that universe. However, if one takes away that annoying element of the film, Justice League manages to entertain thoroughly.

Directed by Zack Snyder, the film had a screenplay written by Chris Terrio with later input from Joss Whedon. The story came from Snyder and Terrio together and it features the “origins” of the Justice League.

The film begins with the death of Superman, something that  directly results in the return of Steppenwolf. The angry entity is ready to wreck havoc on the denizens of planet Earth and it is his actions that cause Bruce Wayne to start the Justice League.

Diane Lane reprises her role as Martha Kent and Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane, Superman’s other half, and  Connie Nielson comes back as the Amazon Queen.

The story is fairly straight forward. There are three boxes of power (the DC version of the tesseract, if you will) that, when combined, will allow Steppenwolf to destroy earth. Batman begins to recruit his league members and the usual problems surface. These superheroes do not, as a rule, play well with others so a number of teething pains are encountered before they lose the “i” in team.

Jeremy Irons is back as Alfred. (Another mild annoyance as Michael Caine is almost the definitive Wayne butler – on the big screen but on the small screen it is personal favorite Sean Pertwee who has managed to perfectly fill Alfred’s patent leather shoes…) The butler is a major supporter of Wayne and he aids the new group in their battle with Steppenwolf.

Jason Momoa as Aquaman is good value for money as is Ray Fisher as Cyborg. J.K. Simmons is a tired Commissioner Gordon and Amber Heard has a blink and you will miss her turn as Mera.

There are things that irritate about the film however. The tendency to use Gadot’s bum as the focal point of many camera angles, for example. As the camera zooms up and in on the male protagonists, Gadot’s bottom is used almost like a fulcrum for far too many scenes on screen.

It also does not help that Justice League shows all too clearly the DC versions of Marvel heroes, and vice versa. That said, the film works well and it entertains in all the right places, despite the closeness to its Marvel counterparts.

The only thing that does not really work is the Barry Allen character but that may well be down to personal preference to the TV actor who plays The Flash on CW.

Justice League  looks brilliant and the pacing is spot on (the film runs for two hours and never once lags). The fact that personal tragedy kept Snyder from finishing his directorial duties is not obvious in the film. Joss Whedon took over the reins and managed to seamlessly carry out Snyder’s vision.

The film earns a full five stars, despite a somewhat meandering plot line, as it keeps on giving throughout. Catch it at your local cinema, grab some popcorn and enjoy this latest DC offering.