21 December 2010

Rebecca deWinter

Rebecca DeWinter just won't stay dead. 

Read about her, and more, in the BACK FROM THE DEAD issue of the Revolving Floor:


19 December 2010


There is plenty to be frightened of this Christmas.  At least in Finland.  In the world's farthest reaches of desolation, it gets dark by mid afternoon -- and Krampas can come out to play.  A father and son manage a meager existence as reindeer ranchers.  This year, however, something has affected their normal migration pattern.  He and fellow villagers suspect the disturbances on the Korvatunturi mountains may be the culprit, nor are they convinced that the project is only seismic testing when they find explosives and a nearly bottomless pit on top of the mountain. 

Piertari (Onni Tommila), the son, is young enough to still believe, and old enough to research the dark folklore, to realize the drilling company is releasing Santa Claus.  But this is no "Coca-Cola Santa", he explains.  Krampas was an angry old demon who kidnapped and whipped children when they were bad.  The Sami people of Finland became tired of this man, so they lured him out on to the ice, where he fell in.  As the lake began to thaw, they cut out the block of ice, carried it to the mountains and packed it in several feet of sawdust, to ensure it would never melt and their children would be safe.  From then on, only the benevolent Saint Nicolas would bring the festivities of Christmas.  When potato sacks, radiators and children start disappearing, Piertari takes charge and must convince the adults he knows how to save the town. 

While there are many scary moments, this is not a horror movie.  The elves are rather like zombies, the father is a butcher, the bad corporate guy looks just like the short Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and people are disappearing, but there is no gore.  It is suspenseful but not gruesome.  That is what makes this film work.  It takes itself seriously and doesn't become a silly slasher film.  That's not to say it doesn't have it's extremely funny moments.  

The child is a great actor with surprising ability.  He reminds me of Bruno from the Bicycle Thief.  He carries this movie, much as he carries the survival of his town on his shoulders. 

Kudos to the Helander brothers, the writers of the film who not only told an engaging story, but included numerous small details that made it possible to believe Krampus might be real. 

Adding to the suspense is our own non-understanding of Finnish culture, particularly in their day to day life.  The audience's lack of knowledge of what is "normal" makes the simplest things eerie and unsettling.  

I let you discover the amazing ending for yourself, but do add this to your annual Christmas movie list.  

Thanks to Jim Reed and Psychotronic Films for showing it in Savannah.

15 December 2010

Most Underrated Films of the Decade: Part 1

I Capture the Castle (2003)

Romola Garai stars in I Capture the Castle
It has all the elements of a fantastic film -- an all-star cast, fabulous production design, a gorgeous score (from Dario Marianelli) and a script based on a book by famed author Dodie Smith (she also wrote 101 Dalmatians). Told from the point of view of the middle child, Cassandra, as she writes in her diary, we see a struggling author and father wrestle his demons and attempt to save his crumbling family.  Set in 1930s England, the family lives in a castle ruin that leaks, has draughts and empty cupboards.  Yet they manage to scrape by with a forgiving landlord and a fairly productive garden.  

The girls fall in and out of love, explore the metropolis, struggle with growing up, and get caught in adventures.  Sweet, but not saccharine; funny, but not hilarious; poignant, but not didactic; this adaptation settles and hits a stride nicely.  I watch it at least twice a month, if I can.  Now available on Netflix Instant.  Its R rating is one of the mysteries of the MPAA.  It should easily by a PG-13, if not a PG.

The cast includes the brilliant Romola Garai (Atonement, Scoop),  the stalwart Bill Nighy, Marc Blucas (of "Angel"), Henry Thomas (E.T., Legends of the Fall), handsome Henry Cavill (The Count of Monte Cristo) and a handful of other faces familiar to watchers of BBC. 

A perfect movie for a rainy afternoon.  Make a pot of tea and enjoy. 


The Orphanage (2007) / El Orfanato

I was raised on scary movies. I actually wore out the tapes my parents had made of Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest.  I remember begging them to not turn the channel when Poltergeist came on.  I was four.  So it's hard to surprise me (or scare me) with modern movies.  They generally have nothing new to say and I've figured out "whodunit" before the opening credits are over.  The Orphanage is a refreshing wind that shakes the trees and makes the door creak.  

It is the debut outing of Spanish director of Juan Antonio Bayona, heavily supported by producer Guillermo del Toro.  Laura (Belen Rueda) purchases the orphanage where she grew up, until being adopted.  Married and a mother, she decides to reclaim the crumbling but comforting building and open it once again, this time as a home for children with various disabilities.  But when Simon, her son, disappears during the grand opening, she makes every effort to find him - even asking for help from the ghosts of her childhood playmates. 

The first time you watch this, you will be frightened and emotionally exhausted.  But when you look back on its various moments, you will realize you were only scared because their meaning was unknown.  The subtitles are no problem.  In fact, the use of the Catalan dialect only enhances the mystery.  

Do not watch alone. 


Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005)

Based on a true story, this lively and sweet tale is not to be missed.  Mrs. Henderson (Dame Judi Dench) purchases an abandoned London theatre on the eve of WW2.  When the English are searching for any sense of levity while under attack from German Luftwaffe raids, The Windmill Theatre puts on spectacular revues -- some of them nude.  Faced with begin shut down for indecency, Mrs. Henderson instead creates tableaus where the girls do not move and can therefore be considered stationary art. 

Dench and Bob Hoskins make a charming and winning couple as they attempt to keep the theatre afloat.  Christopher Guest is an unlikely but great choice for Lord Cromer, responsible for giving the Crown's approval (or denial) of the theatre's standing.  As funny as it is affecting, it is a reminder of the human spirit's determination to make life worth living.  Mrs. Henderson herself might have been the inspiration for the unused poster of England.
Enjoy in good health, among friends.