Lovely Molly: Naked, Grim, and Surprising

Streaming choices seem bountiful this week; I finally sat down to watch Lovely Molly and didn’t find myself as disappointed as Rotten Tomatoes (an underwhelming 42%) or several other high-profile reviewers apparently were with the film. That said, this isn’t a title that is going to make it on my favorites list, either. Allow me to explain.

Initial Reactions (Mild Spoilers)

1. Why would anyone move into that old house?
2. She sure is nude an awful lot.
3. What’s with the horses? …HORSES ARE SCARY!
4. Wait, whatisthatinthegarden?!

It’s not usually a good sign when, asked about a film’s best attributes, a person replies “the soundtrack” before all else. In this case, though, I thought the soundtrack stood alongside as its own work of art. It’s still softly spinning in my head, lingering like the climactic garden scene.

As I understand it, a lot of feedback–push back, even–about the film was about the “ambivalence” in the plot devices: is Molly losing her mind as we watch, or is there something paranormal afoot: you be the judge, viewers! I didn’t get that, and feel pretty secure in saying that the film weighed much more heavily toward straight up paranormal. From the ghostly assault caught on camera to the sister doing the same thing with the closet at the end, it seemed structured in either haunting or possession. Sure, she did some drugs and had awful memories to live with, but in the second scene her husband Tim witnesses a disturbance in the house just as she did; in no way did that feel like a marked beginning to a “descent into madness” but one of “your house is probably haunted, dudes”.

Gretchen Lodge handled the Molly character well, getting better as the intensity grew. Everyone did a decent acting job, in fact, but the stand out for me was Alexandra Holden as her sister Hannah. (Which is weighing the two unfairly, as this was Lodge’s debut role.) I thought that employing them in a cleaning service was a good touch because it added not to the plot, but to the characters. The two were believable as onscreen sisters. Hannah’s own childhood memories and the care she has for her sister are relatable; raw. Tim is, well, Tim.

This movie is not filmed all as cinéma vérité nor is it overbearing with its usage of that device, but surprisingly, this is the best camerawork I’ve seen in any found footage. The story told through Molly’s camera is striking and added a tense freak out level that really boosted the film’s overall horror. Sánchez has made it quite the art form since the Blair Witch Project while many other directors just repeat what he did back in 1999. If found footage transcends its rapidly closing coffin, I’d keep an eye on Sánchez as the one coordinating the lift.

Sanchez’s choice of color palette and shadow was as beautiful as a bruise and a welcome backdrop. Some eliciting visuals like a dead deer and even some of the *many* scenes where Molly is nude are startling. (Not to mention the garden scene! My boyfriend confirms that, upon seeing this finale, I spoke the only words of the entire viewing: “Wait, what is THAAA-?”) The one big reveal that would be an unfortunate spoiler for those of you who haven’t viewed but plan on it is the only real questions I was left with after the credits. It has to deal with motive. I think most actions are explained outright or given a fleshy allusion, but one is tenuously lacking by my account. The very end part that focuses on Hannah was the only point in the film that felt a little trite, but was necessary I think.

Overall, Lovely Molly had a fair amount of scares, enough original story to be captivating, good female leads, and it gives the clop of a horse’s hoof a much darker tone than any movie before. I wouldn’t recommend it as the centerpiece of a movie night, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend skipping it, either. Let me know what you think!

 

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‘Looper’ And What I Finally Noticed About JGL’S Face

Hail all from inside the snowy nor’easter! Hope my east coast neighbors are somewhere safe and warm in the enduring devastation from Sandy. (And–because my enthusiasm is still ripe–hooray, Obama!) Moving on!

When I saw it, I wasn’t in the mood to watch Looper (or any movie for that matter.) It was my boyfriend’s idea, and the only reason I went along with it was because it has been a rare thing in the past two years that he wants to watch a movie with me, much less suggests which one we watch. (Not because our love life’s entertainment aspect is rocky–our first date viewing of The Lion King and homemade mac and cheese was his giddy idea–but because he works long hours, and he swears he “watches” everything I do as he sits behind me exploring Diablo III patches or haunting WoW forums.) Unfortunately, if I’m not in movie-mode, I have a hard time getting immersed.

I am pleased to report such was not the case with Looper.

Initial Reactions

1. Hey, Jeff Daniels, it is GREAT to see you again! You look adorable; are you a Lebowski?
2. There is…something…off about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face…I can’t…hmm.
3. Oh MAN great effects! Alright, I’m in!

Brutality, Making Rain, and What’s Going On With That FACE?!

Writer-Director Rian Johnson’s film Brick is an enduring title on my top 20 drama favorites, so even though I was reluctant about committing to the length of a movie, I was excited to see him team up with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL from now on) once more. Inception has had the lasting impact of making me skeptical of these kinds of intellectual psy-fi types (in case I never manage a post on it, well, I was lukewarm at best regarding Inception.) However, it seemed like Johnson actively anticipated the obvious parallels and neatly sidestepped the potholes.

The premise: in the future, time travel is both illegal and widely used by syndicated crime to take care of icing unfortunate victims so neatly that Law and Order would have a run for their money. The film’s present day is set in 2044 after an economic crisis that allowed said crime to take root and organize “loopers” as the assassins for those sent back. (Neat tidbit: a looper’s only weapon is a blunderbuss!) Additionally, about 10% of the population went Dr. Jean Grey and developed telekinetic (TK) powers.)

In the present, Joe Simmons (JGL) is both TK and looper, working for Kansas-based mafia boss Abe (Jeff Daniels,) who was sent back from the future to organize the assassination side of business. Abe is an affably be-robed character, clearly playing the father role to parentless Joe, colleague looper Seth (Paul Dano), and the hot-shot of Abe’s muscle–the Gat Men– Kid Blue (Noah Segan.) He also owns a predictably sleaze-tastic bar where Joe indulges in ocular drug use and the company of a woman named Suzie (Piper Perabo.) Loopers enjoy top indulgences, financial reward, and protection for their services; the big hitch is a looper’s contract inevitably ends (we are told aprx. 30 years in the future by Joe) they are sent back in time to be killed by their younger selves. [Disjointed] SPOILERS THE REST OF THE WAY!

For all Brick‘s verbal and scene-shot complexities, Johnson handled all aspects of Looper with poignant minimalism. I think he handled the paradoxes of time travel, continuity, and exploring human motivation and their consequences in top form. Nothing in the film felt heavy-handed, out of intellectual reach, or made me roll my eyes. I don’t want to overview the whole plot, just focus on my favorite aspects/scenes so if you haven’t seen it but don’t mind spoilers, not all secrets are revealed but one of them could really ruin a lot of the fun for you!

Visuals

Essentially, Johnson successfully created one of the first well-lit sci-fi movies I’ve come across. It is a beautiful movie, no bones about it, and mostly takes place outside during daylight. He avoids embellishing the “look” of time travel and telekinesis. Really, the most futuristic visual effect we get is a hovering speeder-cylce, getting no more than 1 minute screen time, max.

Being a junky as I am for all cinematic instances of primal disturbing visuals (gimme that body horror!), I got my fix of two fantastically unique scenes. The first is early on, when Seth’s future self  is frantically trying to escape the city after escaping death by his younger self. A scar appears on his arm of an address and 15-minute deadline. Then his fingers begin to disappear. As he races to the location he is steadily mutilated and whittled away; a human face with a healed cavity where his nose has been cut off is fundamentally disturbing. He reaches the destination and lunges limbless for the door, desperately begging them to stop. The door opens and he is shot dead. The viewer’s last impression is a vague, blood-soaked surgical table in the middle of a dark room. I thought that this sequence evoked brilliant levels of horror and compassion.

The second comes after a great many other things have happened in the main plot so here’s what you need to know: after also escaping assassination, we find out Joe’s future self (“Joe II”, Bruce Willis) is there to find/kill a person who will become a super-villain known as Rainmaker in the future. Hunted by Abe’s Gat Men and trying to stop Joe II, Joe locates one of the potential targets: Sara Rollins (Emily Blunt) and four-year old Cid (a phenomenal Pierce Gagnon). They become close as they wait for Joe II to show up. BIG SPOILER ALERT! The second scene that resonated with me is when a Gat Man finds them, threatens them, and accidentally causes Cid to fall down the stairs. Turns out Cid is a super-TK with no control of his powers; in reaction to his fright, Cid literally rips the Gat Man apart on a cellular level, and it is beautifully shot. Timing, sounds, effects, facial expressions–everything. Excuse a second X-Men reference, but it put Professor X’s demise to shame.

Last of all, JGL’s face. I saw right away that something was off about the way he looked, and didn’t figure out that he was wearing contacts until about twenty minutes in. Ah, that’s it! Right? Blue contacts sure change a face! After the movie was over, my boyfriend casually mentioned that he was impressed the director actually altered JGL’s nose to make him look more like Bruce Willis. I stopped for a moment, thought back for another, and then promptly facepalmed. I’ve since studied some screen shots and yeah, that’s what they did. Points for commitment, but I don’t think it was very successful.

Handling Themes

Time travel is vital to the story, but not what the story’s about. In the end we are left with a larger exploration about the cycle of consequences that come from using violence to prevent violence, and to what degree can self-motivation twist moral convictions. We are also given to ponder how thin the boundary is between choosing one action or another and how vast the resulting chain of events are.

As with all complex subjects in movies, there has been much debate and speculation regarding plot holes, implications, and paradoxes of time travel in this film, but I don’t think I need to do any more thinking on it. Johnson didn’t over-complicate the matter by only giving vital explanations and keeping his structure consistent. I’m not saying it was too background or didn’t engage me, just that I am satisfied at face value.

As for the human nature side of things, I felt most emotionally provoked by Sara and Cid and a lesser degree by Joe. Willis didn’t phone it in or anything, but there was an element to his character that left me wanting; I think it was desperation to round out his determination. Cid was just awesome and I’d watch it again just to pay more attention to his character.

On the whole, I think this is one I’d like to own. It was just so engrossing and beautiful. I’m already a loyal JGL fan because of Brick and 50/50 but now I’ll keep my eyes peeled for anything Rian Johnson has his hands on as well. Let me know if you agree, disagree, or think I missed anything important!

 

‘Contagion’ Proves Star-Studded Casts CAN Just Be Icing In A Film Done Well

Prologue: In Regards to Hurricane Sandy*

I wasn’t even aware Contagion  existed until the recent super-storm created the circumstances for me to find it. Anxious about what Hurricane Sandy had to deliver, I spent an adrenalized, pre-storm movie marathon watching disaster epics from the mid-90’s. Surely the best way to show a hurricane you’ve got no fear is to get jacked-up Tommy Lee Jones style while the wind hollers around the eaves, yeah? (Miraculously, it worked! Not only did we stay safe but also unimaginably well-lit with one small power outage…on that day. The rest of the week has been full of trees thunking down uninvited in the yard and brown-to-black-to-brown outs, but I count that as extraordinary luck.)

I whistled over the wind, engrossed in every decent disaster-ama Netflix offers until I ran out of options. With the storm was still acting a boss, I tossed up a hail mary and searched “top fifty disaster movies OF ALL TIME”. Culling from many I’d already seen, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) stuck out in the “meh, this was okay” ranks. As Sandy danced her wild rumpus, I settled in for viewing, armed only with a few reviews crying “blasé” and a dubious attitude about the magnitude of superstars swarming the casting bill.

(Now hang in there; this will no doubt be a tall drink of water, being blog-rusted in cahoots with a complex film to tackle. This movie is totally worth it, trust me.)

Initial Reactions & Overall Taste

1. Instantly engaged by the soundtrack and color scheme.
2. The opening 8-odd minutes of disconnected jumps between the  first-infected is striking; the direction/editing drives unease to apprehension to tension in such short order that my smoking adrenal glands dig up hidden reserves of chemicals to gnosh.
3. Matt Damon has aged into a lovable, middle-aged father type and-OH JEEZE LOUISE Gwyneth Paltrow is burning her  horrifying death-throes into my brain dictionary under “pandemic.” Good god-DAMN she is unsettling.

I’ma be straight: everything about this movie went above and beyond for me. More favorable reviews I caught before pressing “play” shared similar warnings à la: “If you want a horror or disaster film, skip Contagion; it’s a solid, documentary style narrative about the affects of a pandemic blah blah..” After enough of this cautionary tale, I tuned in trusting the sentiment. Happily–and maybe due to the subjectivity of defining what “horror” or “disaster” means–this movie scored both genres for me. The odds and sheer power of a pandemic scare me to the core, and the unapologetic depiction of an overwhelming race to find anything to curb literally millions of deaths sure sounds like a disaster to me!

The Trio That Won My Top Praise

1 – Pacing

Editing choices that dictated jumps between the parallel story lines reflects (and enhances) the various speeds of a pandemic’s life cycle. Quick successions from here to there to yon echoes the frantic urgency dogging our characters, from response organizations cobbling a plan, scientists racing to identify the virus, to fact-hungry citizens in panic, looking for someone to tell them what to do. Complementary decisions to go from charged story line or frantic character to a static, near-claustrophobic counter-story do much to drive home that in a pandemic there is just as much hell in waiting or isolation as there is in the race for answers and a cure.

Normally I can get frustrated or disappointed in films defined by the hyperlink narrative Soderbergh is fond of using. They either:
a) smack viewers two-thirds of the way through a tediously paced production with an overwrought, plot-colliding,  “the veil is lifted!” jambalaya that tanks any gravity in the finale,  OR
b) obsessively focus on only a third or half of the plot threads–rounding out characters, using thoughtful timing–but then totally cram the remaining threads into whatever chronology and time frame they have left
This never fails to jettison me, screaming, right out of my immersion.

I am pleased to report that there was only a glimmer of the latter fallacy in Dr. Sussman’s (Elliott Gould) thread as he defies a cease & desist order and keeps working with the virus to help find a vaccine. His character sort of pops off the grid for an extended time but it mirrors his secret lab work. Frankly I didn’t even notice it during the movie, only in hindsight.

2- Actors/Character Development

Biggest thing about the star-heavy ensemble is that every actor/actress cast was both a natural fit for the written character and, despite being enormously famous, each possesses the rare quality of filling no more of the movie than their given role. Damon’s tragic, enduring character dominated my empathy because his character was meant to, not because he eclipsed anyone with his stardom.  Other standouts for me based on performance tandem to role development were Kate Winslet as the vividly real EIS officer Dr. Erin Mears, and Jude Law’s delightfully unexpected, loathsome portrayal of false-prophet blogger Alan Krumwiede. (*Check out top link for a full list!*)

What more can be said about the character development beyond the actors other than to high-five screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for crafting each role to its full potential within the scope of screen time and plot thread? Not one character felt flat, unfinished, unrecognized, or failed to evoke an immersed reaction from me as the viewer. Double high-fives and a fist bump for doing it with such a populated cast.

3- Plot n’ Plots

The spinal plot–the sum of the whole–may have been the reason critics decided that Contagion doesn’t qualify in the “disaster” genre. And it DOESN’T qualify if the accepted scope of a disaster film is defined by one of about four predictable story arcs punctuated by the following: a blithely unassuming introduction, unsettling harbinger of things to come, initial peak of sporadic disaster activity (SURPRISE!) effecting the main character(s) so totally that they leap into into heroics from here on out, an uneasy lull offering options to shock audience with untimely supporting role demise, a wildly tense shriek into quasi-absurdist climax, and final ease into relieved or hopeful conclusion.

If that is the currently accepted disaster movie, then Contagion is a transcendent iteration waiting for us to haul ass into the future.

Back to the main plot and sub-threads: fully-realized, unexpected and original, frighteningly realistic, subtly connected, multi-faceted, and with a refreshing absence of forced or too-good-to-be-true connections in the 11th hour. The narrative’s natural horror in watching a virus emerge from nothing and relentlessly rise to become a pandemic, reaches choice level of impact and sustainability. Every scene delivers enough information to pull us into the fold of growing chaos but doesn’t answer so many questions that we walk away omniscient.

Encouraged by the film’s characters and plot journeys, our mental Center for Logic and Reason in Crisis Situations singles out “Where and how did the virus first infect man?” as the top vital question to answer. It subliminally acknowledges that finding a vaccine is the core answer but is being handled by racing scientists; we the viewer can’t help them there. Surprisingly, we actually get the whole answer of origin as the film endures, richly rewarded in the final minutes with a blunt visual timeline that leaves no secrets. Most full-scale disaster plots rely on a certain degree of need-to-know basis and deus ex machina, so Contagion seems to committed to earnest disclosure to give the viewer footing amid the devastation. But…by the time that the mystery is laid bare, the virus in decline, and an informed control over our mortal fear of helpless vulnerability is in our grasp, that’s when the real horror sinks in.

In the end, it wasn’t really so important to find patient zero and the place they called home. After all that time lapsed and lives destroyed, all we’ve accomplished by answering “why” and “how” is to catch up to the beginning again. All we really gain through the search for accurate timelines, exact location, and elusive vector is a sense of purposeful accomplishment that amounts to nothing more than a scientific study tucked into the archives of hindsight. It ends up alongside all the other hard-won facts in times of rampant smallpox and polio; information that did us no good and stopped none of the loss. The real horror is that, if and when it  happens again, we start the race all over with only as much control as the virus allows us time because a virus is the most powerful, adaptable, and unpredictable monster of them all.  As if that wasn’t enough to send us away rattled, the film warns that contagion is far from the only deadly force in a pandemic by displaying eerily plausible fallacies of human behavior and the tragic consequences in a time of mass hysteria.

Quiet Aftermath

I know that was a lot of exposition with glaringly few actual film details. It’s a quandary: an overview would do the film no justice, and a play-by-play would give you the facts but rob so much of the immersion it has to offer. Decide for yourself if Contagion was a genre hit-or-miss, or if your experience with it led you to the same unease that was left with me. Here’s with my final reaction: the first time I went out after Sandy spent her wrath and every time since, well, I’m not so oblivious anymore to the person coughing openly on merchandise or the kid wiping snot on his palm right before grabbing the pole on the subway, just a few feet from where I’m standing…

contagion, pandemic, virus, viral, doctor, cold, sick, ill, flu, gross

This is how I feel when I have the common cold; a pandemic would not be good for me.

 

 

*To any of you reading who suffered any ill-effects before/during/after Sandy’s arrival, I wish you and yours the best of a speedy recovery. Though we are less than 15 minutes from the bitter Atlantic, hung out like a sore thumb, my locale in MA was very fortunate compared to our neighboring communities. Good thoughts and good luck!

‘Splice’ Confirms: Not All Women Are Ready For Motherhood

I only watched Splice because it was available at the right movie-seeking time. The trailer had piqued my interest when it was floating around in 2009, but that was around the time I evolved into a largely anti-social workaholic, so making a mecca to the theater for the film didn’t happen. Having watched it a few days ago, I’m rather glad I saved myself the time and social anxiety.

Initial Reactions

1. Neat CGI. I’m still a little uncomfortable. The Alien franchise dealt with invader special rape way better. Really, that woman just made me so uncomfortable. Specifically the human one, not the experimental one.

Those reactions make up the bulk, really. The techniques employed for Dren’s appearance were very well done and I was intrigued with her facial physicality. The two earlier experiments created by the two protagonists prior to Dren were endearing for the split seconds they were on-screen (before performing a grindhouse-esque slaughter on stage.) Adrien Brody’s character Clive was only a slightly less engaging as the film’s vehicle for human nature.

Sarah Polley’s character Elsa just made me squirm, from the awkward “future child maybe?” talk with Clive to the effect that her mother’s unfounded-by-literally-more-than-one-implied-scene neglect has on her in regard to her treatment of Dren. I didn’t believe any nurturing she doled out and found Elsa to be most natural as a sadistic brat with enough power to take revenge when Dren acted violently with natural instinct. As for both characters, the impression that they were top scientists lasted for the first twenty minutes of the movie.

As for the sexual and reproductive themes, they devolved too quickly and were too explicit. Human nature in situations of forced evolution came out for a peek and then went scampering off beneath the g-string of the hermaphrodite tendency science overlooked because it was having relationship issues. Add in a little last minute homicide and maternal rape, and bada boom! you’ve lost my support.

That’s not all the movie had to offer. Between the forced messages left unfinished and the repulsive female protagonist, I was turned off by the experience, but that’s just me. Check it out if you are a visual effects fan, but not so much if you are looking for a scientific creature-feature.