Rating: The Good – 70.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 104 mins Director: Mike Flanagan Stars: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff
Any horror movie that can be described as original these days is worthy of note and while not completely without formula, Oculus runs just far enough outside the lines of the modern possession story to justify such description. Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites star as sister and brother recently re-united after the latter is released from a mental facility 11 years after he murdered their father. It’s not long before we learn that the sister has re-acquired and intends to destroy a creepy old mirror from their family home which she claims possessed their parents and directly caused their murder. With the premise outlined, the narrative then branches by paralleling the events leading up to their parents’ killing with the sibling’s present day attempt to quite methodically destroy the entity in the mirror. In place of the more humdrum horror movie buildup this smart structure creates a tantalising intrigue and becomes the primary driver of the movie’s tension. Gillian’s presence and Thwaites’ deftness work well within its boundaries but the drama would’ve held together better if the lesser known actors mutually shared each other’s strengths. Inhabiting only one strand to the story, Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane have more limited opportunities but still offer more complete performances. Though the tone of the film is expertly set throughout its 104 minutes, the persistent switching of perspective (from the time of the murder to present day) eventually wears on the cohesion of the plot and as writer-director Mike Flanagan escalates his use of that device to actually include time-shifting hallucinations, the audience may struggle to stay engaged. The paucity of even light humour and unrelenting bleakness of the final act will only augment that likelihood. That said, Flanagan stays true to his convictions right up to the close and, best of all, he handles the supernatural concept with welcome restraint by constantly resisting the temptation to up the ante. It may not provide as many classic scares as the average horror vehicle but it furnishes the movie with an integrity that sets it apart from the pack.
Rating: The Good – 90.6 Genre: Comedy, Drama Duration: 102 mins Director: Richard Linklater Stars: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey
With Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater gave us perhaps the most original and entertaining rites-of-passage film. Set in 1976, the film follows a group of high school kids on their last day of school before the summer break as the incoming seniors hunt down and haze the incoming freshmen. This is a film that seduces its audience by channeling a spirit of youth that we all can and want to identify with. It captures a very particular notion of freedom and anticipation that from an adult’s perspective seems to be something we will only ever get to appreciate again in retrospect. Dazed and Confused is also the best demonstration of Linklater’s unique package of talents: his easy-listening brand of dialogue; his ability to skew archetypal characters a couple of degrees either way and make them interesting again; his ability to establish believable relationships between them; and lastly the unobtrusive yet intimate manner in which he frames every shot.
Dazed and Confused is one of those precious few films which creates an unmistakable sense of time and place through a combination of era-specific music, some clever photography, and some witty but well sourced costume and production design. However, it’s the sound of the film which is most memorable as the source music would make Scorsese or Tarantino proud (the latter of which, you might be interested to know lists this as one of his favourite films) and it provides the primary fuel for Linklater’s time machine. The performances are too many to fully note here but Sasha Jenson’s quirky Dawson, Rory Cochrane as the uber stoner Slater, and Matthew McConaughey’s creepy yet ridiculous Wooderson deserve a special mention. Dazed and Confused is a landmark movie where all the pieces fit so well together that it effortlessly resonates with you. Whether you grew up in that era or not, it’ll ensconce you in a warm sense of nostalgia and you’ll be forever going back for more.
Rating: The Good – 78.4 Genre: Thriller Duration: 120 mins Director: Ben Affleck Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
Director and star Ben Affleck hits three for three with a pitch perfect account of how a CIA agent extracted six American citizens trapped in Iran after the 1980 revolution with the “best bad idea” that he could come up with. Based on actual events, Argo does something that not many films get to do. It gives us the real scoop on a well known yet relatively recent moment in history by telling a story so inherently dramatic and daft that we’d scarcely believe it was possible if told as outright fiction. Yes, it takes some liberties here and there but the essential story of US citizens being “exphiltrated” from Iran disguised as a Canadian film crew who were ostensibly there to shoot a science fiction epic is entirely true. In fact, this story would almost write itself if allowed but the end result would probably be nothing more ambitious than a wacky comedy. Thankfully Affleck and writer Chris Terrio don’t let it and they instead look deep into the people and events of the time to find the genuine heroism, intelligence, and downright bravery that in reality defines a tale like this. Nothing here is glossed over from the emotional baggage of Affleck as the agent with the crazy plan to the tensions, fear, and mistrust of the Americans in hiding and the Canadian ambassador who is hiding them. And yet somehow Affleck manages to stitch it all together with the unerring momentum of the best thrillers.
Shot in the style of the 1970’s thriller (à la Fincher’s Zodiac) Argo is already working our subconscious recognitions even before a word of dialogue is uttered. The signature palette and textured production design of the era brings us back to a simpler time when films worked because of their craft and not because a glossy public relations campaign brainwashes its audiences into thinking it works. It’s a nuanced directorial effort as Affleck moves the drama forward with a soft pace and controls the tension through intelligent framing, cutting, and general discipline as opposed to the big score and hyperactive editing used by so many of today’s paler counterparts.
The actors are first class with John Goodman and the great Alan Arkin excelling as the big shot Hollywood producers called in to make the fake movie project look real. Of the trapped Americans, Clea DuVall and Scoot McNairy do particularly well in capturing the essence of being constantly caught between fear, expectation, and guarded hope for months on end. However, it’s fair to say that Affleck turns in the most substantial acting turn. Yes, he has more to play with but as the dust settles on the final scene there’s a definite sense that he did something substantial here. It’s not a big performance nor is it overtly intense but it’s weighty nonetheless and he puts you in the character’s shoes.
The result of all this is an enthralling and utterly gripping edge-of-your-seat thriller that rewards true movie lovers for the crap we’ve had to sit through as the genre has been badly approximated for nearly two decades now. Moreover, it’s a marker laid down by a hot and young(ish) talent that Hollywood has a new director to whom we can pin our hopes.