Wednesday, June 16, 2021

the devil

Devilish new tune + music video from BANKS.

"The Devil" is about being stronger than the demons that haunt you. About rebirth and transformation into the forces of nature we were born to be. -BANKS

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Sunday, June 6, 2021

the ancient woods

Two recently seen films, A Quiet Place Part II and Mindaugas Survila's documentary The Ancient Woods, in very different genres and modes, interestingly could both be interpreted as retreats to the "noiseless." Survila's piece, without the comfort of voiceover and very little human interaction in general, gives us portraits of animal life within "one of the last remaining patches of old growth forest in Lithuania." The results are, at times, stirring and captivating and akin to a thriller: we watch as a wide-eyed mouse titters near a coiled snake. Perhaps it says something about myself that while watching this mesmerizing little film (running for 86-minutes, which seems just right) my mind drifted towards modernity: the air conditioning's staccato pattering in the theater; the wonderment of the use of camera (Survila also shot the film); and the marveling of the film's intricate, exquisite sound design: all the minutiae of the woods and its creatures--crawling ants, the flapping of wings, the humming of bees (this is definitely a movie that works best in a dark theater, with a good sound system and an attentive, quiet audience). After the picture, which left a faint but indelible impression, I went sunning on the pier, one of the things, besides seeing a nature doc in a theater,  that can connect a city dweller to the natural world. In a moment later that day, that reflected just how disconnected I am from that world, in the shower, I wondered, what is this foreign thing I am looking at circling by the drain? A remnant of a rubber band? No, just a blade of grass. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, June 4, 2021

the conjuring: the devil made me do it

Despite the cranked-up volume and antics, there's now a creaky listlessness upon the Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) filmic saga. The formula of retro-set porpcorny horror bookended with pearly religious-tinted sentimentality has grown quite stale. Between the lackluster horror films I've seen so far in recent years, I am wondering if this is just fertile ground for a new, breakout movie or at least a very engaging one.  The The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is based upon the Arne Johnson (Ruairi O'Connor) case, where the rare defense of demonic possession was used in a murder trial. 

Michael Chaves, who also directed The Curse of la Llorona, and writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, create a very disjointed picture that unnecessarily toggles through point of views and timelines, while showing the enduring relationship between Ed and Lorraine and their pursuit of conquering the source of Arne's possession. The cinematography by Michael Burgess is attractive aesthetically, but its unvarying dark shades and tones began to lull me into a state of sleepiness as the film shouldered through its needless over two hour run time. The sound design has too many scenes that go from zero to one thousand--a gimmicky (and unpleasant) jump scare trick (remember how creepy that simple handclap was in The Conjuring?--do we need these blaring hysterics?). There are some memorable set pieces--like a rat-infested crawlspace and a sinister waterbed--that deliver nice moments. In this film, that peaks too early from the outset with a noisy exorcism, the smaller-scale works better than its thrashing attempts at the grandiose.  

Set in 1981, I kept thinking back to that notable year of cinematic horror--it's impossible to replicate the atmosphere of the films of that time. Horror period pieces and homages have worked sometimes to great effect (Ti West's The House of the Devil and original Conjuring) over the past decade or so, but the conceit is wearing out. Perhaps, instead of raking the past with songs (Blondie's brilliant "Call Me," figuring here gratuitously) and accurate costumes (Lorraine's ruffle-neck poplin blouses!--props to designer Leah Butler), we need more horror of our time that creates a different atmosphere that's still simultaneously effective?  Farmiga often makes these pictures work, with steely seriousness and faint, glint-in-the-eye humor. I was sad some of her good acting moments had to be intercut with atrociously cheesy flashbacks. Her, and the quality, appealing cast, isn't enough to overcome the retread material. **

-Jeffery Berg 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Friday, May 28, 2021

a quiet place part II

It's been admirable to see Director / Writer / Actor John Krasinski earnestly hustle promoting his new film, A Quiet Place Part II, including trying to get audiences to see it in a theater in the wake of the ongoing COVID crisis. It's only fitting to see this kind of scrappy promotion for sequel to a studio horror film that grew rather organically in early 2018 and remained surprisingly relevant throughout the year, nabbing an Oscar nomination for Sound Editing and Emily Blunt a SAG Award win for Supporting Actress.

Krasinski's film opens impressively with a crisp, summery Spielbergian intro: a baseball game and alien monsters suddenly descending upon small town Americana. There's a kinetic, bravura action sequence (much of it glimpsed in its effective trailer). Here we are re-introduced to the family we spent time with in the predecessor, with Blunt and Krasinski as Evelyn and Lee Abbott and their two children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe). The family are the few visible survivors in the invasion of the toothy, skittery-fast, leggy, sound-sensitive monsters' wrath. The movie follows the events before and after the first film with a new baby in tow to take care of, cradled in a box with intermittent bursts of oxygen. In perhaps a nod to another apocalyptic cinematic tale, Danny Boyle's 28 Years Later, Cillian Murphy figures as another survivalist, an acquaintance of the Abbotts, who may harbor an agenda of his own.  

The technicals, especially the special effects, sound design, and photography (by Polly Morgan), are strong in this worthy sequel. A centerpiece set: a weedy abandoned factory with a steely underground soundproof furnace, is well-wrought. The cast too, is very good, with Simmonds once again the standout. I was impressed with the structure of Krasinski's storytelling--there's a well-directed twinning of two separate yarns that works quite effectively in the final act. And yet, I felt somewhat distant to this one. Is it because watching the first one--sitting in long moments of silence in a mainstream theater--was such a fresh, thrilling surprise? Despite my lack of connection with the movie and my lesser engagement with it than the original, I still recognize it as sturdy popcorn escapism and of skilled technical craft. **1/2

-Jeffery Berg