By Mike Shaeffer
The Babadook, Australia / Canada, 2014
Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
― Emilie Buchwald
When marketing an independent film, producers want a trailer that will reel in any number of demographics. Their targeted audience may be those who love a good thriller, but the product is cross-marketed as a horror film or a psychological drama. Such is the case with the Australian outing The Babadook, released in the U.S. last November. While this film owes a bit to the horror genre, it works most effectively as an emotional thriller. Not only does it fit best within the thriller genre, it is most chilling when the ambiguities are cemented in the notion that this is not a supernatural haunting akin to The Amityville Horror; this is not some spin on the Necronomicon— the cursed book of flesh from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise. The Babadook is not a modern take on The Bad Seed, nor does this film involve cursed ground filled with angry spirits a la Poltergeist. The Babadook is a thriller that depicts the downward spiral of an increasingly unhinged single parent. The mother desperately loves her child, but she is overwhelmed, inept, and unable to combat the depression, fear, and anxiety she suffers after losing her husband and having to raise her boy alone. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Every year, I struggle with the relatively arbitrary process of ranking movies, so this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of a traditional Top Ten list, I’m grouping two thematically connected films together for each place on the list, resulting in a hopefully more interesting Top 20 list. I’ve also included a more traditional Top Ten below that, for all you “too long, didn’t read” folks. One final note before we get to the list: it should tell you a lot about my credibility as a film critic that I liked Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa more than most of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees for 2013.
10. THE WICKER MAN: FINAL CUT / JURASSIC PARK 3-D – BEST RE-RELEASES. Obviously, this category doesn’t really count, as both of these films were originally released decades ago, but I can’t deny that each of them provided one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in a movie theater in 2013. This new cut of the original 1973 classic The Wicker Man adds some nuance and more musical numbers to an already great film. Most crucially, it opens with a scene of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) praying in church, emphasizing his piousness from the very start, which enriches the events to follow. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, is quite simply my favorite movie (it has the most dinosaurs in it – I rest my case), and seeing it on a big screen again, in 3-D no less, made me fall in love with it all over again. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Remakes of classic films have an even worse track record than sequels when it comes to relative quality. Whether they change everything and ruin the whole idea (Frank Oz’s 2004 Stepford Wives remake) or remain slavishly faithful to the original (Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho remake), most remakes have great difficulty in justifying their own existence, let alone surpassing the original. Here are five that achieve this rare feat.
1. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) – this is the only one on the list that I wouldn’t argue is definitely better than the original, but it’s pretty damn close. Transposing the McCarthy-era paranoia of Don Siegel’s 1956 classic to the pre-Reagan era, Philip Kaufman’s remake presents an even darker vision, complete with a chilling ending in the spirit of the one Siegel had originally envisioned for his film, before the studio interfered to happy it up a little. Featuring great performances by Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy, and state of the art special effects for the time, this is a truly frightening film, the rare remake that lives up to its source material. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Carrie, USA, 2013
Directed by Kimberly Peirce
To justify its own existence, a remake of a classic film doesn’t necessarily have to be better than the original, but it is crucial that it be different in some substantial way. For example, though I prefer the original French film Love Crime in many ways, Brian De Palma’s Passion more than justifies its existence by adding a third-act fever dream to the original source material, as well as being strikingly unique in several other ways. Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear is another good example of a filmmaker taking a markedly different approach to an already great film, in this case by adding psychological and moral complexity to what was originally a very cut-and-dried good versus evil story. In the horror genre, John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly update classic B-movies to horrifying effect, to my mind managing to surpass the original films in quality and memorability.
Though I would like to evaluate Kimberly Peirce’s new film version of Carrie on its own merits, without comparing it to De Palm’s 1976 adaptation, it is just too similar, and everything good the new Carrie does with the material, De Palma’s film already did better. This is evident from the very beginning, in the famous shower scene in which Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets her first menstrual period and, not knowing what is happening and believing that she is bleeding to death, is mercilessly taunted and humiliated by her classmates. In De Palma’s film, the horror of this moment is forefronted, with the performances and shooting style heightened to a surreal, nightmarish pitch. The vulnerability of Sissy Spacek’s performance in particular sells the moment, and it is a truly disturbing scene to watch. Peirce, conversely, shoots the sequence in a relatively flat, ordinary way, and though the content is still rather shocking, it lacks the emotional power of the original. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Well, it’s that time once again, and as always, I didn’t get around to a lot of the films I would have liked to see – as I write this, a DVD of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris sits on my desk, glaring at me – but there comes a time when every movie lover has to call it a year. I have somewhat arbitrarily picked today as that time, so here now are my top 10 favorite films of 2011:
# 10) MELANCHOLIA – anyone with whom I talk movies already knows how much I love Lars von Trier, and though this is definitely not my favorite of his films (2003’s Dogville still takes that honor), it is nonetheless a striking and powerful depiction of the nature of depression, as well as a highly unusual and compelling look at what the impending apocalypse might feel like. The stunning opening and closing sequences alone make this film impossible to ignore, or to forget. Read More
By Ezra Stead
A Dangerous Method, UK / Germany / Canada / Switzerland
Directed by David Cronenberg
A Dangerous Method could be called the final film in director David Cronenberg’s Viggo Mortensen trilogy. Beginning with 2005’s A History of Violence, Cronenberg has used the estimable actor in each film he’s made up until now, with the brief exception of his short film for the 2007 anthology To Each His Own Cinema (the wonderfully titled “At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World”), in which only Cronenberg himself starred. This triptych of films, which also includes 2007’s Russian mob story Eastern Promises, marks a distinct departure from the type of filmmaking that made Cronenberg’s name synonymous with gruesome, highly physical horror – see masterpieces like Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and Dead Ringers (1988) – and ever more into the territory of restrained human drama. While it lacks some of the visceral punches (the “Cronenberg touches,” as many reviewers called them) found in the previous two films, Method is probably the most consistent and accomplished work, and though it is certainly a bit drier, it is no less consummately entertaining. Read More