January Movie Guide
A mother’s love is forever
January is a difficult time for movie goers. You’re normally left with one or two options: left-overs from December’s Oscar bait run of contenders or studio write-offs just thrown into the melting pot for a quick return. A notoriously bad month for movie releases, January tends to see second class, b-action movies or cheesy horror movies that aren’t quite big enough to rack in the box-office receipts over Halloween weekend. Often filled with cheap money-grabs (last year’s The Devil Inside Me) or over-the-top 3D remakes (Texas Chainsaw Massacre anyone?), January horror movies are a dime a dozen with little redeeming qualities.
It appears that all that is about to change though as Andrés Muschietti delivers his feature-length debut – the Guillermo del Toro produced Mama on January 18th.
As a truly terrifying film, Mama brings back the essence of horror and foregoes the need for blood, gore and cheap thrills. Instead, Muschietti builds terror into the film by creating a tense atmosphere that continues throughout the entire film; where you know something’s there, you just can’t reach it.
The film begins amidst the economic collapse of 2008, where events unfold leaving two sisters (aged one and three) abandoned in a decrepit cabin hidden in the middle of a the woods. Never having lost hope, their loving uncle finally finds them after five years of searching; yet no one is quite sure how exactly they survived for so long with no one looking after them.
In an animalistic and almost feral state, the sisters are introduced back into society as their uncle Lucas (played by Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) fights to gain guardianship. His girlfriend Annabel, a black haired punk rocked portrayed by the ever malleable Jessica Chastain, is ambivalent about the change in their family. She’s in no way ready to be a mother, nor does she want to.
For her part, Chastain does an impeccable performance unlike any we’ve seen her before. It will, however, be overshadowed by her Oscar-nominated performance in Zero Dark Thirty(which itself receives a wide release on January 11th) – but it showcases Chastain’s near chameleon acting abilities. Dying her crimson red hair into a dark black, covering her arms in tattoos and throwing a bass around her shoulders, Chastain is no longer the bubbly, blonde socialite from The Help or the loving 1950’s mother from Tree of Life. She’s almost unrecognizable which makes her transformation and evolution much more natural (although, let’s be fair, they pound in the fact that she doesn’t want to be a mom a little too heavily at the start).
It’s that transformation that pushes the story forward as Annabel and Lucas bring more into their home than just the two nieces. Something was out there in the cabin with them, keeping them alive and nurturing them and she does not like the fact that she’s being replaced.
With more and more unanswered questions, Annabel sets out to find out who this mysterious creature that the siblings refer to as simply “Mama” and she finds out more than she’s bargained for.
Victoria and Lily (played by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse) are the crux of the film – starting out as Village of the Dammed kids but rather than glowing eyes, live in dirt and crawl around on all fours at unnatural speeds. Quick movements and uncomfortable postures bring shivers to the viewers as the kids do what kids are best at in horror films: being creepy. But their creepiness dissolves into a sense of childish wonder – kids who just want to play with their mother and must decide who to stay with.
Most impressive, however, is Muschietti’s control and fluidity with the camera. Like the three-minute short that inspired the film, Mama is filled with steadicam shots that follow the action without a blinking moment. He even recreates the very same shot from the short but to bigger impact here.
His confidence helps develop the tense atmosphere that is needed to bring the horror to the forefront. While the image of five year old giggling and playing in her bedroom is normally one of joy and optimism, in mere seconds Msichietti is able to transform that same image into something eerie and supernatural. Yet, despite the supernatural elements, the joyful laugh of Lily still makes you second guess your gut reaction.
It is that unseen element – who exactly is she playing with and who is this Mama that they keep talking about – that makes Mama more than your cheap jump-out-of-the-closet scarefest. While they give you a glimpse early on as to what this supernatural being is, she remains out of focus and in the peripheral for most of the film. When the monster finally comes to the forefront, Guillermo del Toro fans will not be disappointed.
Like he did with 2007’s The Orphanage, Guillermo del Toro has found yet another horror movie that eschews the modern day requirements of blood and guts. It still falls victim to some horror clichés, an overabundance of exposition explaining what exactly a ghost is for example, but is strong enough to forgive the few mishaps.
Building on the back of a most primal emotion (a mother’s need to protect their children) and the basic fear of the monster in the closet, Mama finally breaks the mould of bad January horror films and shows that original horror movies still exist.
Other January Movies
January 25th, 2013
Parker is a Jason Statham movie, which should tell you whether you’ll like it or not right away. A “turn your brain off and enjoy the fight” flick, Parker doesn’t see Statham stretching his acting muscles much more than we’ve seen before (although, he makes sure to show off his scarred muscles as often as possible).
Nevertheless, blood, fights, guns and the odd explosions, Parker hits all the necessary points required to make a sure-fire action film. Statham plays the character of Parker, a no-bullshit thief that lives by a set of straight forward principles. When his partners break those principles and decide to double cross him, Parker travels across the country for revenge and god help anyone who stands in his way. With a stoic stiffness, Statham does what Statham does best: he fights. And those fights, while nothing new, are good enough to keep you interested for two hours and Parker’s motivation is much more engaging than say The Mechanic or The Transporter.
Plus, Nick Nolte delivers a stronger performance as Statham’s mentor and defacto father-in-law and it was nice to see Clifton Collins Jr. on the big screen again. Sadly, Jennifer Lopez – who plays the money-hungry real estate agent Leslie Rodgers – is one of the more aggravating characters in recent memory. There couldn’t be a sadder love interest than this.
December 25th, 2012
Tom Hopper could not have picked a better follow-up to 2010’s Academy award winning King’s Speech and has surely delivered yet another Oscar winner with Les Miserables. Based on the Victor Hugo novel and adapted from the Broadway musical, Les Miserables is far more than just Oscar bait but rather an essentially perfect movie.
Hopper never wastes a single frame, using each image and song to push the story forward. The entire feature is mesmerizing, pulling in the viewer even more with every passing minute. The performances from the all-star cast are top notch, as Hopper holds on a close-up for countless solos, allowing the viewer to see the heartbreak and passion behind the eyes. Anne Hathaway’s short appearance will be one of the history books while Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Boham Carter offer a much needed comedic reprieve.
The movie will touch, move you and emotionally drain you – it will impact you and leave you wanting more. It’s a three hour movie that could’ve lasted five and would still leave you enthralled.
Zero Dark Thirty
January 11th, 2013
Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, the duo behind the 2009 Academy Award winning The Hurt Locker, are back with another war film, Zero Dark Thirty, that has already earned them numerous awards and five Oscar nominations.
Right after one of the strongest film-representations of the atrocities of September 11th, 2001, Zero Dark Thirty jumps into the thick of things without a moment hesitation. The film follows Maya, a young CIA officer played by the fierce Jessica Chastain, as she and her co-workers search the world for Osama bin Laden and try to eliminate future terrorist attacks.
Based on true events as told by eye witnesses, the film succeeds thanks to its realism and freshness. The events portrayed in the film are still recent enough that people remember what happened, which eliminates the need for excessive exposition.
Opening with a cringe worthy torture scene (a scene which has caused countless amounts of debate already), Zero Dark Thirty proceeds to show a decade long struggle to find the most wanted man in the world as Maya and her CIA co-workers use everything at their disposal. Much as been said in regards to the torture scenes, but if you ignore the media frenzy about them, you’ll see that it took much more than detainee camps to find bin Laden’s location.
The film is smart, fast-paced, visceral and raw. More complete than The Hurt Locker, Bigelow cements herself as one of the industry’s top directors with Zero Dark Thirty yet it is quite clear that the film will not be for everyone. It has been attacked for stretching the truth and in moments, I’m sure those accusations are fair – it is simply a movie based on real events and not a documentary afterall. But they also appear to get a lot of things right and former CIA veteran Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., described the film best saying “that “Zero Dark Thirty” is more than a movie and less than the literal truth.”
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