All Good Things in The Conjuring

The Conjuring Vera Farmiga

Vera Farmiga plays Lorraine Warren with sincerity in THE CONJURING

When the close-knit Perron clan (headed by a laid back Ron Livingston and lovely earthy Lili Taylor) move into a bucolic New England home on a deceptively serene lake, it’s not long before this old house they bought at auction begins raising hell.  Who you gonna call in the era before basic cable paranormal investigators?  Ed and Lorraine Warren – played in their pre-Amityville Horror days by Patrick Wilson (partially raised eyebrows and all manly reactions) and Vera Farmiga (wily, caring and determined).  The spectacular scenario is wisely set up by jumping back and forth between the two families who soon collide in a supernatural cataclysm.

The Conjuring, James Wan’s startling and enormously entertaining Destroy All Ghosts! story, plays like a montage of horror’s greatest hits from the past twenty years. Continue reading

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Lynchian Legacy and Family Matters in Top of the Lake, Stoker and Bates Motel

Many shows have tried...and failed...to recapture the spirit of "Laura Palmer."

Many people have tried…and failed…to recapture that spirit of Laura Palmer. But there will only ever be one Laura Palmer. And one Twin Peaks.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 23 years now since Twin Peaks graced the small screen, but even though it aired for only a year and a half, its legacy can still be felt today on television and in film in works like Top of the Lake, Stoker and Bates Motel – though only ones of these, thanks to the amazing lead performance of Vera Farmiga in Bates Motel, hints at anything memorable.

Jane Campion's TOP OF THE LAKE attempts to be haunting, but comes up all wet.

Jane Campion’s TOP OF THE LAKE attempts to be haunting, but comes up all wet.

Currently on the Sundance Channel, the New Zealand set slow-boil mystery, Top of the Lake, borrows liberally from David Lynch’s signature series. Film auteur Jane Campion follows in Lynch’s footsteps by turning to television with this melancholy miniseries chronicling a Sydney detective (Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss, boldly against type) returning to her remote New Zealand home town (an eerie down under mirror of Lynch’s Pacific Northwest with its mountains, lakes and dark woods) to care for her cancer-stricken mother only to get sucked into the local mystery surrounding the disappearance of a pregnant twelve-year old who just so happens to be the illegitimate daughter of the town drug lord.

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Actresses I Would Watch Read a Phone Book…

…or text a Tweet.  Hell, these are the actresses who I would follow on Twitter if I had a Twitter account, though I know they are way too hot and talented to subject themselves to something as belittling as Twitter…right?

This is The Schleicher Spin’s tribute to my favorite lovely ladies of the silver screen.

Who are you favorite actresses?  You know what I’m talking about – the women who are often the only reason you are willing to sit through a film you would otherwise avoid…the women you’d be willing to watch in just about anything.

Well, here are mine:

The Gold Standards of Talent:

The BlondeNaomi Watts

Naomi Watts

British-born, Australian-raised Naomi Watts should put a patent on her American accent because it’s perfect.  Ever since nailing the role of a tortured actress in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Watts has gone against the grain by shunning the limelight, aging naturally and beautifully, and carefully choosing roles over the past decade that put her in a position where she can constantly challenge herself and work with the best directors.  She’s keenly maneuvered the big studio system while keeping one foot firmly placed in the world of independent and avant-garde filmmaking.  Continue reading

Up, Up and Away

A staggered release schedule, the mother of all blizzards and those pesky holidays kept me from heading out to the theaters to see Up in the Air until this weekend…finally.  I’m a few weeks behind the buzz on this one, so I doubt I’ll be able to add anything new to the discussion, but I’ll never shirk my duty to recommend something worth your time and money. Up in the Air comes in for the landing as advertised — how nice for a change!  Continue reading

A Review of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”

The Holocaust Presented as a Grim Children’s Fable, 14 November 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

It’s official. The award now goes to the British for making the most depressing film I have ever seen. For the first time in my movie-going life I witnessed an audience member’s physical reaction to a film when a father was observed outside the screening room for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas collapsed against the wall with his child emotionally distraught and crying in his lap. With the rest of the audience, including myself, stunned into silence after the film and exiting the theater a communal internalized wreck, I don’t know if I was more devastated by what I had witnessed on screen or by that poor little child out in the hallway whose father for some reason thought this film would provide a history lesson his child could stomach at such a young age. As the film proves, the innocent are not cut out for war.

That being said, I would recommend The Boy in the Striped Pajamas to anyone emotionally prepared to sit through it. The film’s climax will hit you like a sucker punch to the gut…but there is a lesson to be learned for those in the right frame of mind and mature enough to handle it. In adapting John Boyne’s novel, director Mark Herman envisions the Holocaust as a grim child’s fable, and in doing so, presents the historical events from a daringly simple new angle. Yes, Life is Beautiful attempted something similar not so long ago, but that film was told from the point of view of a child-like man trying to shield his son from horrors and had abrupt tonal shifts that sank its dramatic impact. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, however, keeps a powerfully consistent tone, and until the harrowing final act, is entirely told from the point-of-view of the young son of a German commandant assigned to run a concentration camp.

Herman directs the film fairly well, utilizing visual motifs and not so subtle foreshadowing (that left me with a sinking feeling in my gut as the film progressed), and he is aided greatly by the wonderful cinematography by Benoit Delhomme. The script, though contrived in parts, is tight and moves at a brisk pace, and the normally sappy composer James Horner shows great restraint with his score that is both haunting and reverent to the events that unfold. The mostly British cast is stunning. As little Bruno, Asa Butterfield successfully permits us to relate to the child’s naïve innocence without ever allowing the character to become cloying or blissfully ignorant. David Thewlis commands attention as his tortured and misguided father, and Vera Farmiga is dynamite as his distressed mother. She gives a powerhouse performance and proves yet again to be a gripping chameleon of an actress nearing the level of a Cate Blanchett.

With its slim run-time, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas seems a sound choice for a future generation of teachers to show their high school students in lieu of an epic like Schindler’s List. It also makes a good visual companion piece to Eli Wiesel’s literary Night as it shows a fictionalized flip-side to the same tragedy. As the real survivor accounts sadly fade with the passing of time, the horrors of the Holocaust will remain firmly in place in the world’s historical fiction for centuries to come long after the last person who actually witnessed it has died. These stories will forever be screaming at us, and we would be wise to listen. Fault the film if you wish, but in its bold child-like simplicity it shows the insidious evil of the Nazis as two-fold. Yes, they slaughtered six-million innocent Jews, but it was an act of murder-suicide as in doing so they also sentenced themselves to death.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0914798/usercomments-43

A Review of Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”

In honor of the Golden Globe nominations and the race for Oscar, here is a rebroadcast of my review of The Departed from when it originally opened in October of 2006.  This is the only film from this year to receive 10/10 stars from me.  Comparatively, last year, I bestowed two 10 star reviews to The Constant Gardener and Crash (which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture).  In 2004, I bestowed only one 10 star review to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The Renaissance, 9 October 2006
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Martin Scorsese has reached a point in his career where he has free reign to do whatever he wishes as a director. It’s hallowed ground for an auteur, and as such, every actor worth his salt would kill to work for him knowing full well that whatever Scorsese chooses to do will be an uncompromising work of art. With “The Departed” he has quite possibly one of the greatest casts ever assembled. The deliciously convoluted plot based on the recent Asian flick “Infernal Affairs” showcases Jack Nicholson as an Irish mob boss; Leonardo DiCaprio as an undercover cop infiltrating the crime ring; Matt Damon as the crime ring’s inside man with the police unit assigned to bring them down; Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg as the cops working above Damon and DiCaprio; and a breakthrough role for Vera Farmiga as a police psychiatrist in a love triangle with Damon and DiCaprio. This brief but confusing rundown is merely the tip of the iceberg and reveals nothing of the plot twists and tension riddling every aspect of the film like bullet holes from a machine gun massacre.

By now, Scorsese is to crime dramas what Hitchcock was to psychological thrillers. Comparatively, he’s at the same point in his long career Hitchcock was when he gave us “Rear Window,” “Psycho,” and “Vertigo.” Scorsese could’ve directed this blindfolded and it would’ve still been first rate. What’s so thrilling about Scorsese as a filmmaker is that he’s always directing full throttle with his eyes wide open. “The Departed” is so ridiculously good it left me with chills afterward. After a brief departure to big budget Oscar pushes with “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator,” Scorsese returns to the familiar ground of his most revered projects like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” Goodfellas,” and “Casino.” All his hallmarks are here: fantastic use of music, brilliantly choreographed bouts of violence, heart-pounding editing, deep and meaningful camera shots and movement, religious iconography, an epic and detailed sense of place (in this case, Boston), and highly quotable dialogue that is dramatic and funny and full of pathos in all the right places.

With its rising tension and cat-and-mouse theatrics, “The Departed” is easily the most viscerally thrilling studio film to come down the pike in many moons. Scorsese doesn’t just treat us to his usual bag of tricks, he re-imagines them, and in exorcising perfectly balanced performances from an amazingly talented cast that in the hands of lesser director may have gone over-the-top, he delivers a modern day tragedy on par with greatest works of Shakespeare. For Scorsese, the big screen is his canvas, the camera his paint brush, and the blood splattered across the screen his awe-inspiring brush strokes. He’s a veteran, he’s a master, and “The Departed” is his Renaissance.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database.

http://imdb.com/title/tt0407887/usercomments-359