You Should Be Watching: September 13-19

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found.


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


The VVitch

    — Moving from Prime to Netflix on Sep. 17

Year: 2015

Director: Robert Eggers

Genre: Mystery, Horror

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, Wahab Chaudhry, Axtun Henry Dube, Athan Conrad Dube, Vivien Moore, Karen Kaeja, Brandy Leary, R. Hope Terry, Carrie Eklund, Madlen Sopadzhiyan

No doubt about it, The Witch is very, very dark, as many classic fairy tales are, but those willing to enter in will find a challenging tale providing much worthy of grappling with. Between the design, dialogue taken straight from period sources, and natural lighting of this debut feature film from writer and director Robert Eggers, this film feels intensely, oppressively of its time, like being taken back into the 1600s and being thrust inside a Puritan’s nightmare, the type of nightmare that led to the paranoia of the Salem witch trials. That’s not to say the Puritan lifestyle was inherently oppressive. But any fear, left unchecked can spin out of control.

The family in this story, headed up by the father William (Ralph Ineson) and mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) have left the leadership and community of their former church body, each claiming the other is false in their faith. Now isolated and with each member of the family struggling with their secret sins, they are especially vulnerable to evil oppression. It’s not that they aren’t putting up a fight. They pray. They discuss Scripture. Outwardly, they try to glorify God. But its unclear where each of their hearts lie.

As eldest daughter Thomasin and the one largely responsible for the younger children, Anya Taylor-Joy owns the film from the first frame to the last. She is who we as the audience focus on. We see her parents’ struggles through her eyes. We see the actions of the younger children through her eyes. She is convincing no matter whether she’s trying to express truth or spinning a lie until it’s unclear if her obvious lies are lies at all. One thing is certain. With her parents often being distracted and the family living in isolation, there’s little to keep her grounded.


The Queen

   — Coming Sep. 15

Year: 2006

Director: Stephen Frears

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Sylvia Syms, Paul Barrett, Tim McMullan, Douglas Reith, Mark Bazeley, Robin Soans, Lola Peploe, Joyce Henderson, Pat Laffan, Amanda Hadingue, John McGlynn, Gray O’Brien, Dolina MacLennan, Julian Firth

It’s hard to believe now with the public obsession over the weddings of Prince William and Prince Harry and the massive popularity of television series such as The Crown as well as British television in generalbut the British royal family used to be of little interest to those outside of Great Britain itself. Regardless of the monarchy’s role in government, the lack of attention enabled them to live mostly insulated lives, free to make decisions apart from public pressure. What changed all that? Princess Diana. By marrying into the royal family, her celebrity spread far and wide, bringing deep focus onto the monarchy and the family as a whole. What complicated it further? Diana’s divorce and subsequent death a year later.

With strong, believable performances across the board including Helen Mirren winning a Best Actress Oscar for her inhabiting the very look and essence of Queen Elizabeth II, Stephen Frear’s The Queen dives deep into the conflict immediately following Diana’s death, which speaks even to today’s society where the public routinely makes demands of the private lives of others, especially those with power. In this case, new Prime Minister Tony Blair–played by Michael Sheen–as the public’s spokesperson is pushing for the royal family to honor Diana with a show of mourning only a royal would receive. The queen and especially her husband Prince Philip are outraged that such a demand would be made of them, especially since it was their son from whom Diana divorced. James Cromwell as Philip exudes deep frustration. He is emphatic about protecting his wife the queen and their status as royals and all the heritage that comes with it, but he lacks control to do anything about the changes that feel increasingly inevitable.


White Heat

Year: 1949

Director: Raoul Walsh

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly, Steve Cochran, John Archer, Wally Cassell, Fred Clark, Paul Guilfoyle, Ford Rainey, Robert Foulk, Ian MacDonald, Robert Osterloh, Sherry Hall, Joel Allen, Claudia Barrett, Ray Bennett, Marshall Bradford, Chet Brandenburg, Robert Carson 

Cream of the crop when it comes to classic gangster movies. The script is full of colorful dialogue and creative plotting. James Cagney is at the top of his game as the gang leader Cody Jarrett. Despite his diminutive stature, he’s tough as nails–no hesitation in killing a man, even taking out one of his own who’s become an inconvenience or a risk. But he’s also a mama’s boy, though Ma (Margaret Wycherly) is just as ruthless as he is, albeit tender to him. And he’s vulnerable due to his penchant to trust those he is close to as well as due to recurring sudden, raging, debilitating headaches and a propensity towards insanity.

Virginia Mayo, plays Cody’s multi-faceted wife Verna. Her uncouth, free-spirited personality shines through along with her fear and duplicity. Finally, Edmond O’Brien is the undercover agent Hank Fallon whose job it is to quickly ingratiate himself with Jarrett so he can draw out an even bigger fish. There are great moments of suspense as any hint of the truth could get him killed in a flash. But the tension doesn’t only serve Hank. Others lives are in danger at one point or another also.

That other side of this film that makes it fascinating is the police work. Unlike the criminals, not much is revealed about the character and personal lives of the investigators. Instead, there’s a heavy focus on procedure, including detailed steps they take to track their suspects and tighten the noose, making for a unique time capsule and a lesson on the origins of today’s surveillance technology. It’s particularly surprising to see cell phones and vehicle bugs used for tracking show up in a film from the mid-twentieth century.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

September 13
Pete’s Dragon (2016)

September 14
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
Half Nelson (2006)

September 15
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

September 27
The Imitation Game (2014)

AMAZON PRIME

September 15
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

September 17
The Witch (2016)

September 23
Shutter Island (2010)

FILMSTRUCK

September 14
Advise & Consent (1962)
Easy Rider (1969)
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Fruit of Paradise (1970)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
The Night of the Iguana (1964)
A Patch of Blue (1965)
Queen Christina (1933)
Seven Days in May (1964)
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

September 21
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
Mean Streets (1973)
Night Moves (1975)

September 28
Accattone (1961)
Being There (1979)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Ben-Hur (1959)
The Breaking Point (1950)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
East of Eden (1955)
The Gospel According to Matthew (1964)
JFK (1991)
Kes (1969)
Local Hero (1983)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Pianist (2002)
Rain Man (1988)
The Right Stuff (1983)
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
Teorema (1968)
Winter Soldier (1972)

HULU

September 30
American Psycho (2000)
Angel Heart (1987)
Babel (2006)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Bound (1996)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Field of Dreams (1989)
Hoosiers (1986)
The Ladies Man (1961)
Miami Blues (1990)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
The Rock (1996)
Sleepers (1996)
Spaceballs (1987)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Witness (1985)


JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Next Gen–NETFLIX FILM (2018)
On My Skin–NETFLIX FILM (2018)

AMAZON PRIME

Beyond the Lights (2014)
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Pumpkinhead (1988)
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Stronger (2017)

FILMSTRUCK

Billy Liar (1963)
Cluny Brown (1946)
The Doll (1919)
Hamlet (1996)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Stroszek (1977)
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927)

HULU

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
Stronger (2017)


COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

September 14
Bleach–NETFLIX FILM (2018)
The Angel–NETFLIX FILM (2018)
The Land of Steady Habits–NETFLIX FILM (2018)

September 16
Role Models (2008)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

September 17
The Witch (2015)

HULU

September 15
The Queen (2006)

September 16
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

MOVIE REVIEW: Split

Fear is suffocating.  To wake up, dazed and unknowing, in a dank, windowless, unfamiliar room, the only point of recall a heavy mist of inhalant with the sole purpose to get us to this point.  As the memory fog begins to lift, and the frightful recollection of the strange man who stole you from your normal life comes clearer, the dread and the panic start to set in.  You are trapped.  Welcome to the reawakening of maligned director M. Night Shyamalan.  Welcome to Split.

It probably needs to be said; I have a rather “split” appreciation for Shyamalan.  I love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and am passively entertained by Signs and The Village.  But then, Shyamalan started to go a bit off the rails.  Lady in the Water was uninspiring, and The Happening was borderline unforgivable.  To go from one of the most masterful twist endings (Sixth Sense) to Marky Mark telling me that the grass and trees are conspiring against me broke my thriller movie loving heart.  And don’t even ask me how he got funding for a project after the abomination that was After Earth.  But, like a bad relationship I just can’t quit, there I was watching Split.  And everything I originally liked about M. Night Shyamalan came rushing back.  This is where he belongs; smaller world, condensed storytelling, a place in which he can utilize his deft, up close visual style.  A place to confine his narrative in a much more personal way.  And no angry trees.

Even though this film is smaller in scope to some of Shyamalan’s more recent work, the story still manages to tread into larger and interesting places.  Kevin (James McAvoy) suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (because apparently Multiple Personality Disorder needed a new name), wherein the personalities of twenty three others roam within the confines of his brain.  Only a handful surface for our purposes here; the dominant, particular Dennis, the proper, soothing Patricia, the 9-year old, playful Hedwig, and the semi-flamboyant fashionista, Barry.  These appear to be the most dominant personas of Kevin that jockey for first chair position through most of the film, but there is the threat of a yet unseen twenty fourth personality that lingers.

Shyamalan wastes no time getting to the meat of the story.  Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) leaves a teen birthday party with two friends (we’ll call them friends, but because Claire is such a distant presence socially, acquaintances is probably more apropos), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marsha (Jessica Sula).  The girls are quickly rendered unconscious by the personality of “Dennis” and taken away.  When the three wake up in a drab, square room (with an oddly pleasant bathroom), disoriented and scared, Shyamalan begins to peel the layers back on the mysterious kidnapper and his psychological struggle.

A lot of the film is standard, “held in captivity” fare, in which the girls conspire and attempt various means of escape to little effect, but the demeanor of Casey; calculated, thoughtful, almost attempting to beat the villain at his own game, opens up for discussion what Shyamalan was trying to do here.  Flashbacks to Casey’s childhood are peppered throughout the film, and we learn that she is also psychologically damaged.  Is there a subtext here indicating that only the damaged can understand the damaged?  It’s clear that Casey and Kevin come from similar abusive backgrounds, and while they clearly have landed in different areas of mental strife, they are in many ways kindred spirits.

Just when the film starts to get claustrophobic, Shyamalan pulls away to asides with “Barry”, as he visits his psychologist, Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley).  Within these scenes, the internal struggle that Kevin endures begins to reveal itself.  Dr Fletcher notices the nuances in “Barry’s” behavior, indicating some of Kevin’s personas are exerting dominance over others, and the threat of that aforementioned twenty-fourth persona, heretofore known as “the Beast” becomes more distinct.  I have to admit, the concept of “the Beast” was something that didn’t really connect for me.  I feel like Shyamalan couldn’t resist the urge to shoehorn a supernatural element into the story, and I’m not really convinced it was necessary nor effective.  For all of the intriguing dialogue to be had about mental illness, and the tension built around the peril the girls were in, something got lost once “the Beast” arc really took center stage, and I don’t think he completely stuck the landing.

Add Taylor-Joy to your “ones to watch” list.  Her turn in The Witch in early 2016 was a revelation, but here she shows a different style of nuance as the tactical, careful Casey.  Richardson and Sula are fine in their roles, but ultimately serve as wooden indians.  But let’s cut to the chase.  James McAvoy is on another level here.  His portrayal of the many faces of Kevin chews up scenes that would make Nicholas Cage bow in unworthiness.  He is diabolical, disturbing, and outright impossible to ignore.  I dare say it’s his best work to date.

Absent was the big twist to the plot, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a shock ending that will be sure to please Shyamalan fans.  In the end, I had a great time with Split.  It’s a return to form for Shyamalan, and I want to see him continue to play in this sandbox.  It’s an indication that he has matured as a storyteller.  Perhaps we can chalk up his unfortunate foray into big budget fare to ego, or the need to sow his wild oats on a grander scale.  Whatever the reason, here’s to hoping he has settled down.  Here’s to hoping he has identified that one personality that suits him best.  We’ll all be better off for it.

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STEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.