The cultural conversation around “separating the art from the artist” has been around for decades but the public discourse surrounding the philosophy has been especially fervent over the past few years. How much of the messiness of one’s personal life is permissible to spill into their professional creative work? At what point do we deem their improprieties too great a liability to continue to support one’s art, no matter how essential it may seem to be? Does a pattern of ostracism or vigilantism create a chilling effect for creators to speak openly and honestly in public forum and stifle artistic expression? Should the works of those artists whose misdeeds reach criminal level be expunged? The new film Tár doesn’t just wrestle with these questions; it deepens their meaning and gives us a new narrative upon which to consider our answers.

Tár tells the story of Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic with an unparalleled résumé so voluminous that it would likely spill off the bookplate of a sheet music stand. She’s led her orchestra through all of Mahler’s symphonies, save his sweeping number 5, which will be recorded live before an audience and pressed to vinyl. Tár’s day-to-day is guided by her personal assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and her nights are spent in a spacious apartment with her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), who is also the principal first violin player in the Philharmonic. The addition of young Russian cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer) to the orchestra and the emergence of incriminating allegations against Tár from a former conducting apprentice lead to mounting pressures that threaten to knock the renowned maestro off her raised podium.

Lydia Tár is not a real person but from the opening moments of his first film in 16 years, writer/director Todd Field presents a profile so precise that some may be fooled into thinking this is a biopic. Tár throws a lot at its audience from the outset — even aside from the full set of opening credits and acknowledgements — but that’s by design. Tár is a larger-than-life figure whose body of work is meant to be as intimidating as her physical body is in the tight low angle shots where her arms span the frame. This is masterful filmmaking covering a gargantuan figure that is told through a symphony of moments so small, they can sometimes be easy to miss on the first pass. These carefully orchestrated phrases and movements lead to a breathtaking finale as salient and satisfying as any conclusion I’ve seen for a film so far this year.

In an opening interview, Tár speaks on the grave importance of time to her work and the same can be said for the way that Field chooses to arrange and pace this fall from grace story about assiduous ambition and accrued arrogance. Some scenes, like a mesmerizing one-take during a teaching session at Juilliard, flow gracefully for minutes at a time, while the sequences of the orchestra playing tend to be cut at a quicker tempo to match the dynamics of the pieces they’re performing. With editor Monika Willi, Field establishes a storytelling method that is pensive and patient, more indicative of masters from East Asian cinema than any modern American filmmakers I can recall. The ambiguity and subtext that Field leaves for his audience to parse over reminded me of the way Lee Chang-dong or Wong Kar-wai trust their viewers to unpack the complexities of their stories.

Cate Blanchett has won two Academy Awards, the first for portraying chatty screen legend Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator and the second for her work as the manic protagonist of Blue Jasmine. While both are fine performances, they showcase more surface-level delights as opposed to the more considered and nuanced roles Blanchett has taken at other points in her career. Her work in Tár is truly the entire package and calling it the finest performance in her filmography doesn’t feel like a stretch at this point. Field says that he not only wrote his script with Blanchett in mind for the title character but that if she had turned down the project, he never would have made the movie. It’s certainly not every actor who has screenplays tailor-made for them but when directors and performers are working harmoniously at the highest levels, the results can be transcendent.

Score – 5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Armageddon Time, a coming-of-age story starring Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong about a teenager living in 1980s New York who is sent to his older brother’s private school after being caught using drugs with his friend.
Premiering on Netflix is Enola Holmes 2, a mystery sequel starring Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill continuing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s now detective-for-hire sister as she takes her first official case to find a missing girl.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Causeway, a psychological drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry about a soldier who suffers a traumatic brain injury while deployed in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

No Sleep October: Goodnight Mommy

Originally posted on Midwest Film Journal

More than any other movie genre, horror tends to benefit most from sensationalist headlines recapping hyperbolic audience reactions from initial screenings. Terrifier 2, which is still playing in theaters at the moment, has reportedly been making viewers faint and vomit at the cinema. Earlier this year, David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future was, according to one source, expected to cause walk-outs and panic attacks in moviegoers. When Goodnight Mommy premiered at Venice Film Festival in 2014, it didn’t provoke responses quite as extreme as those other films but by the time it was released in the US over a year later, the Austrian import had nevertheless developed a formidable reputation for itself as a disturbing tour de force in familial horror.

The film begins with twin brothers Lukas and Elias (played by real-life twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz) racing around playing games outside their home in the countryside. Their mother (played by Susanne Wuest) soon returns from a cosmetic surgery procedure that has left her face and hair covered in creepy bandages. Aside from her off-putting appearance, her demeanor is more strict than usual and her punishments on the boys seem to be more severe too. The changes are drastic enough that the twins become obsessed with the notion that this woman may not be their mom and may instead be some kind of imposter who has taken her place. Determined to learn the truth, Lukas and Elias take drastic measures to find out what is really going on.

Goodnight Mommy is psychological horror in the most pure sense because it chiefly concerns how one idea, no matter how strange or unlikely, can consume our thoughts and our minds. The seeds of doubt beg for water to grow roots and watching the tree blossom as an outside observer can be a terrifying process. By the time the twins realize how far they’ve been taken with this conviction that a stranger could be posing as their mother, it’s already far too late. This certainly isn’t the most violent horror film out there but the context of its bloodshed makes it more squirm-inducing than movies where random bystanders meet grisly ends. We know these three characters so well before the acts of violence begin, which makes it more difficult to sit through.

This is a testament to the steadfast trio of performances at the movie’s heart that draws us further into the excruciating mystery at the center of the story. Wuest and the Schwarzes play characters that have quite a few ugly traits; Mother is often sullen and stern after her arrival home, where the boys are often mischievous and disobedient even before they begin their nefarious investigation. The unsettling material that comes later in the movie doesn’t work unless we already have empathy for these people first and the performers put in the work to give us those emotional stakes. For some, this family may just be too cold-blooded to garner much sympathy but I found their struggle to be as enthralling as it was heartbreaking.

Goodnight Mommy is the fictional feature debut for Austrian filmmaking duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala after a documentary they made together two years prior. The influence of fellow Austrian director Michael Haneke, specifically his psychological thrillers Funny Games and Caché, can be felt throughout Franz and Fiala’s unshakable chiller. Like Haneke, the pair understands that absence of stimulus can be much more frightening than too much. The rural lake house that serves as the film’s primary location is devoid of any decorative sentimentalities on the inside or outside that would seem even vaguely comforting. The set design is stark and utilitarian, with every edge of the interiors being cut with the kind of clinical precision that was presumably used during the inciting surgical event.

This chilly aesthetic also applies to the brilliantly sparing music score by Olga Neuwirth, which allows the terror to build organically in every scene and doesn’t give into easy moments to jolt the audience. The sound design follows suit, giving us enough space between the sonic peaks and valleys to fill our own interpretation to what could be happening behind a door or on the other side of a wall. Some horror movies indulge overly quiet moments to set up a jump scare but Goodnight Mommy follows a different rhythm that may throw American audiences off. Not all European horror films are this patient but the ones that are can be unbearably tense.

It’s no surprise that an international horror movie as effective as this one would generate an American remake but it’s a bit surprising that it wasn’t released with a bit more fanfare behind it. Matt Sobel’s Goodnight Mommy was unceremoniously dumped just last month onto Amazon Prime, a service that’s still working on building up the quality of its original films. Naomi Watts, who, fittingly enough, starred in the US remake of Funny Games, plays the maternal role while Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti play the twin brothers. This new take may work for those who haven’t seen the original but after being so thoroughly taken with it seven years ago, it was hard for me to see the redo as anything but inferior by comparison.

Sobel’s film simultaneously pulls punches where it counts and overplays its hand when it could stand to be more subtle. The thornier subject matter has been cut back so much that it robs the story of its visceral impact and misses the point of what made the original so shocking. The broad strokes of the narrative remain the same but it follows a more Americanized arc that rushes to console us when things get a little too scary. The overbearing music score by Alex Weston supports this notion, telling us exactly how we should feel instead of nudging us into the dark corners to explore. The ending of this new version is meant to leave audiences with the sentiment that “hey, everything might be okay after all!” Comparatively, the final shot from the Austrian original is so eerie that it still haunts me to this day.

Black Adam

Swooping in to spoil spooky season, the latest addition to the DC Extended Universe exacerbates the franchise’s identity crisis that has existed since its inception with Man Of Steel in 2013. Though Black Adam had been in development years before that Superman flick kicked off the whole shared universe, it finally lands with its original star attached and truckloads of marketing in its wake. It’s often said that movie studios look to replicate the “Marvel formula” when creating new superhero films but with this new offering, it seems Warners took their cues from Sony’s Spider-Man Universe instead. Like Venom and Morbius, Black Adam has historically been depicted as a villain in the comics but for the purposes of the movies, now he’s an anti-hero who’s just misunderstood.

Our story begins around 2600 BC in the fictional city of Kahndaq, where Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is bestowed powers by the Council of Wizards from Shazam! to escape a power-hungry king. In present day, archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and her crew conjure up the super-powered Teth-Adam while trying to track down an artifact known as the Crown Of Sabbac. Recognizing the oppressive crime syndicate Intergang as similar to the tyrannical forces he opposed thousands of years ago, Teth-Adam uses his powers to pick apart the mercenaries and liberate the people of Kahndaq. Concerned over the violent tactics that he uses to impose his will, the Justice Society of America, led by Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), look to set boundaries for the newly-awakened metahuman.

Johnson is one of the most bankable actors on the planet right now, so casting him in a movie from what is easily the most lucrative film genre at the moment makes overwhelming financial sense for Warner Bros. The issue is that his Black Adam is a joyless bore, utilizing none of the charm or charisma that turned wrestler The Rock into action star Dwayne Johnson. There are some one-liners that work in the film, dutifully delivered by Brosnan and Hodge, but they’re all fish-out-of-water punchlines where Black Adam is the butt of the joke. Adrianna’s son Amon, played by Bodhi Sabongui, is also meant to register as overly-exuberant comic relief but his fanboy giddiness while pitching catchphrases to Black Adam runs thin quite quickly.

Often, the secondary and tertiary characters are the most interesting ones that Black Adam has to offer but even they feel carbon-copied from existing superhero fare. The breadth and depth of Doctor Fate’s powers aren’t clearly conveyed but he shares enough in common with the MCU’s Doctor Strange that comparisons are inevitable. Justice Society of America newcomers Cyclone and Atom Smasher come across as retreads of Storm from the X-Men series and the Giant-Man from Marvel, respectively. Though these DC characters existed in comics well before their Marvel counterparts, this is the first time they’re appearing on screen and it’s hard not to think they’re late to the punch Additionally, the villain character played by Marwan Kenzari may take the crown as the DCEU’s most unconvincing antagonist.

Black Adam doesn’t reinvent the wheel as much as Johnson is endlessly touting that it does on social media but some of the action is more creatively violent than the DC movies have gotten to be in the past. Sure, there are bloodless fight scenes and bodies being flung in the air with no thought to how they might land but there are also moments of ruthlessness that are consistent with how the title character is set up. But director Jaume Collet-Serra uses the same brand of speed-ramped phantasmagoria that Zack Snyder popularized in his contributions to the franchise. Not all of the CG effects here look bad but the shots that do look especially unconvincing, recalling Johnson’s dreadfully-rendered Scorpion King character from The Mummy Returns over 20 years ago. Once Warners figures out how to implement Black Adam into their ever-expanding franchise, then he could serve as a nice counterpoint to the more straight-laced superheroes but his first time out is a dud.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Prey For The Devil, a supernatural horror movie starring Jacqueline Byers and Colin Salmon about a nun who prepares to perform an exorcism and comes face-to-face with a demonic force that has mysterious ties to her past.
Expanding to local theaters is Till, a biographical drama starring Danielle Deadwyler and Jalyn Hall follows a mother who vows to expose the racism behind her son’s brutal lynching while working to have those involved brought to justice.
Premiering on Netflix is Wendell & Wild, a stop-motion horror comedy starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele about two scheming demon brothers who enlist the aid of 13-year-old to summon them to the Land of the Living.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Recurring Nightmares: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Originally posted on Midwest Film Journal

As with many aspects of American culture, the early 1990s proved to be a hangover of sorts for the indulgent excesses of the 1980s and the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series was not immune to this trend. A Nightmare on Elm Street 6, the fifth sequel to 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, premiered in 1991 and promised “Freddy’s Dead” right in the title. New Line Cinema threw out gimmicks like 3D presentation and a mock funeral for Freddy Krueger at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to juice up the box office but our long national Nightmare seemed to be over. The charred boogeyman’s fedora was getting floppy, his sweater more tattered than usual and Freddy needed some new blood. It was time to go back to the street where everything started and to the man who darkly dreamed up this film universe in the first place.

1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare represented the iconic horror director’s return to the series after his pitch for what would become A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 was rejected by the studio. Similarly, the idea of taking this world and making it metacinematic is one that Craven first brainstormed when A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was being conceived but it, too, was also shut down at the time. Apparently 10 years after that initial Nightmare was the right time to get Craven back to the franchise and dream a little bigger. New Nightmare is different enough on the surface from the previous entries in the saga, taking place outside the cinematic universe they created and stepping out of the big screen as Last Action Hero did the year previous. While the film’s metatextual touches were ahead of their time, they’re grafted onto a story with the fedora-furnished Freddy that’s truly old hat.

The movie sets up the movie-within-the-movie premise quite well, echoing the opening shots of the 1984 original and then pulling back to show Wes Craven (playing himself) directing how Freddy’s claws should move for the shot they’re trying to get on-set. He calls “cut” and Heather Langenkamp (playing herself) is shown to be on the shoot along with her husband Chase (David Newsom), who is overseeing special effects on the film. While working with the mechanical claw, Chase and his SFX crew are brutally dispatched by Freddy’s animatronic claw, which moves around with a murderous mind of its own like an even more deranged version of Thing from The Addams Family. But as is far too often the case in New Nightmare, this scene is revealed to be one of Heather’s many bad dreams.

We then see what Heather’s waking moments are like as an alumni from the Nightmare franchise, where she gets prank calls from creeps imitating Freddy and where limo drivers recognize her from that scary movie with the guy who has knives for fingers. Heather goes to the offices of New Line Cinema, where recurring Nightmare producer Robert Shaye (also playing himself) attempts to sell her on reprising the role of Nancy Thompson from the first film for a new sequel. Now that her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) is at an especially impressionable age, she doesn’t feel the time is right to come back to the horror movie scene but Freddy doesn’t seem to want to take “no” for an answer. A series of murders and eerie happenings suggest that his evil presence has somehow manifested into the real world and Wes makes it clear to Heather that the only way to put an end to it is to star in a Nightmare movie that will end Freddy for good.

The main issue that hampers New Nightmare is its reluctance to fully commit to the premise that it sets up for itself. This idea of trying to get Langenkamp back for a fictitious sequel should be a fun way to pull back the curtain and see how New Line feels about the series responsible for so much of their success. But Shaye is only in one scene and beyond the opening dream sequence, Craven doesn’t pop up again until much too late in the film. The “how the sausage is made” Hollywood insider material largely takes a backseat to Heather and her family issues, particularly with an increasingly disturbed Dylan. The movie falls into a redundant pattern of depicting Dylan in peril one scene and then Heather having a gory nightmare in the next until it begins to feel like we’re on a blood-soaked treadmill.

Of course there are a smattering of cameos from Robert Englund to John Saxon that pop up as the film world and the real world start to collide. Likewise, there are major and minor callbacks to the original film and its sequels; I particularly enjoyed a hospital-set scene that somehow weaved in the “screw you pass!” line Nancy uttered 10 years prior. But New Nightmare spends too much of its paunchy 112-minute runtime as a “next generation” Nightmare movie instead of an entry that exists outside the franchise’s traditional canon. Freddy gets a makeover that obscures his striped sweater with a slicker and makes his facial burns more polished in comparison to his disfigured face from the other movies. Englund still gives a good performance as Freddy but I don’t find his look as menacing as it is in other Nightmare entries. The makeup and prosthetics were too fussed-over for my liking, calling to mind the cackling Mighty Morphin Power Rangers baddie Ivan Ooze.

While New Nightmare isn’t entirely successful in what it’s trying to achieve, it set Craven up beautifully for his next film: the postmodern slasher Scream. In hindsight, that film’s self-aware characters and their investigation of prevalent horror tropes have their genesis with this Nightmare entry that first attempted to close the gap between our world and the cinematic realm. With a fifth Scream sequel due out next March, it’s possible that franchise will eventually have more chapters than the Nightmare series but whether it’s Ghostface or Freddy who is scaring up audiences throughout the decades, filmmakers like Craven will no doubt find new ways to scare us for generations to come.

Halloween Ends

The leaves are changing to golden hues, the brisk air smells of Pumpkin Spice Latte, and that can only mean one thing: a new Halloween sequel is on Peacock. Whether Halloween Ends, the thirteenth installment in the Halloween franchise, will truly be the series’s last is still a bit of an open question, given how lucrative these films continue to be. But at the very least, it does seem to be the definitive end for the trio of films that writer/director David Gordon Green started in 2018 with legacy sequel Halloween and its 2021 follow-up Halloween Kills. As a trilogy capper, it wraps things up about as well as it could have and the quality level is consistent with the other two recent entries. If you were a fan of those two, then Ends is unlikely to disappoint. If, like me, you’ve been underwhelmed with this slasher series, then you may do better to select from the plethora of other recent quality horror titles for spooky season this year.

Halloween Ends picks up 4 years after the events of Kills, with the town of Haddonfield still traumatized from Michael Myers’s latest slaying spree and subsequent disappearance. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has since bought a house in town with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and is writing a memoir about her encounters with evil incarnate. Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) is doing his best to learn Japanese and got himself a new guitar to pluck around with. Everyone is just trying to move on. That includes Corey (Rohan Campbell), still tormented from a babysitting gig years ago that unexpectedly turned deadly during his watch. But as this series has proven over and over, evil never dies and Myers does eventually come out of hiding to wreak havoc on Halloween night once more and to finish his face-off with Laurie.

As much as Universal is touting Halloween Ends as a feature-length showdown between Michael and Laurie, most of the film’s narrative revolves around the relationship that develops between Corey and Allyson. Outside of their individual hangups — Corey has a dead-end job at a salvage yard, while Allyson gets overlooked for a charge nurse promotion because she won’t sleep with her boss — they both share pain related to how residents of Haddonfield see them. They’re local legends for the wrong reasons and diner-goers and bar patrons don’t miss an opportunity to remind them about every chance they get. Of course, their struggle mirrors the conflict Laurie has had with Michael all these years but Corey and Allyson being young and eager to leave town makes their cause easy to root for as well.

Thematically, Halloween Ends ponders the nature of evil, most notably in a monologue Laurie gives about external evil borne of negative circumstances and internal evil borne of one’s reaction to them. The idea that bullies, who show up in this film even more than its two direct predecessors, act negatively against others to poorly cope with their own struggles is not a new one. While the movie does shed new light on what becomes of the bullied when they decide to fight back, it doesn’t exactly tie in with how the rest of the franchise functions. In the very first Halloween, Michael Myers is a disturbed child who murders his babysitter for reasons we and he don’t fully understand. He comes back later as an adult and goes on a killing spree without an explanation of how he got that way. To quote Scream, “it’s scarier when there’s no motive.”

I have nothing against the slasher genre; I’ve enjoyed both X and Pearl from this year alone and recent reboots of Candyman and Hellraiser have worked for me, in addition to the subversive Happy Death Day entries. But I think it’s time to retire Michael Myers at this point. He’s had quite the run over the past six decades, with some great movies and not-as-great movies under his belt. Even as an embodiment of pure evil, to paraphrase series protagonist Dr. Loomis, he just isn’t much of an interesting character anymore. He’s a mute antagonist whose levels of physical strength and vulnerability have varied greatly over the years — and even sometimes within the same movie. If Halloween Ends inspires the beginning of a brand-new slasher series, or different kind of horror subgenre entirely, then this new trilogy will have served its purpose.

Score – 2.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing exclusively in theaters is Black Adam, a DCEU superhero movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Aldis Hodge chronicling a super-powered being who is hungry for justice after being awoken from his Egyptian tomb after nearly five thousand years of imprisonment.
Also coming only to theaters is Ticket to Paradise, a romantic comedy starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts about two divorced parents who travel to Bali after learning that their daughter is planning to marry a man whom she has just met.
Streaming on Apple TV+ is Raymond & Ray, a family dramedy starring Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke about two half-brothers who reunite at the funeral of their father, with whom both had a poor relationship.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


On its surface, Amsterdam has the hallmarks of a refined mid-budget studio film for which critics and cinephiles clamor routinely. Arriving at the beginning of the oft-competitive awards season, it’s helmed by an acclaimed writer/director in David O. Russell and sports an even more accomplished ensemble cast. It’s a movie about serious subjects that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is based on a true story (with wink-wink exceptions) that doesn’t slavishly adhere itself to the facts. Most importantly, it belongs to a group AMC refers to as Artisan Films, a term for pretty much any movie that leaps over the low bar of not being based on existing IP. Given all this pedigree, it’s a massive disappointment with sparks of genius that get snuffed out by an avalanche of dead-end plot points and a myriad of fussed-over characters.

After a “you’re probably wondering how I got here” prologue set in the early 1930s, Amsterdam flashes back to World War I where infantry doctor Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) meets fellow soldier Harold Woodsman (John David Washington). The brothers in arms are wounded during battle and treated by nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie), whose eccentricities and magnetism draws the three of them together through wartime and afterwards when the trio move to Amsterdam together. After carefree years of dancing and palling around, Burt and Harold eventually leave for New York City, the former beginning his own medical practice and the latter becoming a lawyer. The death of their mutual commanding officer Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) brings them back together but a curious autopsy sends them on a chase for clues when they begin to suspect murder.

It’s about halfway through its runtime that Amsterdam finally focuses in on its real-life inspiration: the uncovering of a fascist political conspiracy by a group of oligarchs to overthrow FDR and install a dictator. While such a true story is worth investigating at feature length, the film gets way too bogged down with a cavalcade of detectives, spies, and hitmen to retain narrative cohesion. Familiar faces from Zoe Saldaña to Taylor Swift to Chris Rock show up to impart some passing notes on the storyline but don’t have a lasting impact beyond being recognizable. Most of the movie plays like a flittering hummingbird, rapidly whipping its pretty wings while staying roughly in the same place to sip on the nectar of vacuous words.

With films like The Fighter and American Hustle in his oeuvre, Russell has proven in the past that he can wield a star-powered cast but the story in Amsterdam simply gets away from him. Credited as the sole screenwriter, he gets too tangled up in knotty espionage threads and dubious romantic through lines to reach a clear set of themes that resonate. With a tighter screenplay, it’s possible that Russell’s brand of controlled chaos could have given this movie the verve that it needed to hum but without the right music, it’s just a cacophony of discordant allegros. The actors, which also include Oscar winners like Robert De Niro and Rami Malek, do what they can with the herky-jerky material and occasionally manifest moments of manic brilliance but ultimately, it all goes to pot.

I attended an IMAX screening of Amsterdam, a presentation typically reserved for big budget blockbusters due to the larger screen and enhanced sound, but I appreciate that 20th Century made it available in that format. Emmanuel Lubezki, the visionary cinematographer behind works like Birdman and The Revenant, brings forth signature touches like roving close-ups and extended takes to draw us into these characters. His camera also loves the faces of these movie stars and seems to revel in both their beauty and their imperfections. As social creatures, our eyes are drawn to faces and subconsciously, we go to the movies to study them and, hopefully, to learn something new about each other. It’s just a shame that Amsterdam has little to offer beyond that.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters and streaming on Peacock is Halloween Ends, a slasher sequel starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Andi Matichak that allegedly caps off the showdown between masked murderer Michael Myers and perpetual survivor Laurie Strode.
Streaming on Hulu is Rosaline, a romantic comedy starring Kaitlyn Dever and Isabela Merced which retells Shakespeare’s most well-known story from the point of view of Romeo’s titular ex-girlfriend, who Romeo first claims to love before he falls for Juliet.
Happening at Cinema Center from October 13-16 is the Hobnobben Film Festival, which will screen a festival-record 128 films over the four-day event. Go to hobnobben.org to learn more about the festival, including the full schedule and ticket information.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Capping off an uncommonly strong month for cinematic horror, the frightfest Smile stars Sosie Bacon as Dr. Rose Cotter, a psychologist who’s been putting too many hours into her job at a New Jersey-based psychiatric ward. Right before ending her shift one day, she meets with disturbed PhD student Laura (Caitlin Stasey), who says she is being stalked by an evil grinning figure that takes the appearance of other people she knows. The appointment turns even more tragic and leaves Rose irrevocably shaken, to the growing concern of her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) and her boss Dr. Desai (Kal Penn). Rose begins seeing the malevolent entity that Laura described, prompting her to go to her policeman ex-boyfriend Joel (Kyle Gallner) to find a chain connecting these “smiling” sightings that are now plaguing her.

Smile effectively combines two horror reliable subgenres: transmissible curse films like It Follows or The Ring — going further back, it most resembles the supernatural cop thriller Fallen — and personified trauma movies like Hereditary and The Night House. It also leans on a rich history of creepy cinematic smiles for chills, the most haunting of which still belongs to Conrad Veidt’s character from the silent picture The Man Who Laughs. Adapting from his short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, writer/director Parker Finn takes the material seriously but does have some fun playing with the audience’s expectations. This is a movie that shamelessly includes jump scares but, naturally, Finn’s hope is that their placement may still surprise you. When the camera stays on Cotter as she opens her refrigerator, will there be someone behind the door when she closes it?

As an overworked doctor already at her wit’s end before the film’s inciting event, Bacon is terrific at putting us in the mindset of someone whose grip on reality is slowly becoming more tenuous. Her screen presence and nervy resolve while being terrorized by a distorted-faced bogeyman remind me of Neve Campbell, who returned to the Scream franchise again earlier this year in the series’s fifth installment. As compared to the Scream films, the terror in Smile is more psychological in nature, since the characters around Cotter can’t see the horrifying creature that impersonates her friends and family. She reaches out to people she thinks she can trust, like her sister Holly (Gillian Zinser) and her therapist Dr. Northcott (Robin Weigert), but there’s no telling when the shapeshifting smirker could rear its smiling head.

Mental health is a subject that horror films have addressed responsibly and not-so-responsibly over the years — more recently, I would put 2022’s Abandoned in the latter category — but Smile builds it into the narrative sensitively and intelligently. As a child, Cotter witnessed her wayward mother overdose on unnamed prescription pills, leaving an indelible mark on her even as she treats patients going through the same sort of mental illnesses that afflicted her mom. The way that the film personifies the cyclical nature of traumatic events is disturbing and shocking at times but doesn’t feel exploitative of these characters or their issues. The people around Rose who know about her relationship with her mother assume that she’s succumbing to genetically-passed psychosis and Finn leaves the door open enough to suspect that they could be right.

Shot by DP Charlie Sarroff largely in shallow focus and with colors that look like they’ve had the life drained out of them, Smile is a admirably bleak affair that nevertheless finds purpose in its protagonist’s quest for vindication. Finn also sprinkles in typically innocuous smiles, like those found on families from vintage print ads or found on the lower end of the Wong-Baker pain scale, to perpetually unnerving effect. Being Finn’s full-length feature debut, the film could have benefitted from more judicious editing but in general, the pacing felt just right for a movie with a sadistically patient antagonist that waits for the right moment to strike. Beaming with a strong central performance and a potent concept, Smile is an elemental chiller that sinks its teeth in and never lets go.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Opening in theaters is Amsterdam, a mystery comedy starring Christian Bale and Margot Robbie involving three friends—a doctor, a nurse, and a lawyer—who become the prime suspects in the murder of a US Senator in the 1930s.
Also playing in theaters is Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, a musical comedy starring Shawn Mendes and Javier Bardem adapted from the popular children’s book about a family moving into a new home, where they find a singing saltwater crocodile living in the attic.
Premiering on Hulu is Hellraiser, a supernatural horror remake starring Odessa A’zion and Jamie Clayton about a young woman struggling with addiction who comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon evil extradimensional beings.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup