By Shayna Murphy
Forget Black Phillip and everything supernatural that you may think makes The Witch — the powerful debut film from writer-director Robert Eggers – a remarkable piece of horror cinema. Subtitled A New England Folk-tale, the film initially beguiles as a nightmare odyssey and slice of life from a period in our historic past, but then it does something else: it peels back those layers to reveal a special horror that lies underneath, when doubts over faith, family and societal roles take hold.
The Witch opens in the 1630s, on the trial of William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie): a grim Puritan couple who are about to be banished from their community due to religious fanaticism. Proclaiming himself and his family as among the only true believers, William accepts excommunication without hesitation. His eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), watches from the pews, her eyes capturing all the doubt and fear her parents seem so eager to shirk. Continue reading
By Selin Sevinc
A field suggests possibilities; its openness welcomes any old soul to seek his treasure; its terrain allows all sorts of physical or spiritual pursuits. The title, A Field in England, immediately brings to mind a vivid image, and gives away a carefree attitude about which field is the one in question, and what happens on it. The obscurity and infinite possibilities of the film’s narrative and style are hinted at first in the title.
Director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump’s field is a simple field adjacent to a battlefield. Theirs is one of possibilities for personal battles, discoveries, treasures, friendship and mind-altering mushrooms. Unsurprisingly, A Field in England cannot be contained in a single genre category, confined by one aesthetic style or another, or limited by the use of a distinct narrative device or two. It mishmashes a number of devices and forms, as well as lenses, sound effects, visual effects and music.
By Greg Mucci
If you were lucky enough to catch Pan’s Labyrinth in theaters 10 years ago, then I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the fantastical cinematic experience it imparted on you and everyone you were surrounded by. Coming off his reign as the father of everyone’s favorite Baby Ruth chomping boy from hell, Guillermo Del Toro decided to take cinema back to its roots and craft a sort of spiritual successor to his 2001 gothic ghost chiller, The Devil’s Backbone. In doing so, Del Toro created not only a film rife with richly layered imagery and themes of fantasy set amidst the weening years of the Spanish War, but one that skews the coming of age story while penetrating the matriarchy of fantasy.
By Brad Avery
On January 13, the Brattle is pairing Green Room (2016) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) on an inspired double bill. Even though these films are separated by genre – science fiction versus stark realism – the juxtaposition sheds a whole new light on both films through their common themes of entrapment, gaslighting and the horror of ordinary people being hunted by authoritarians.
Both films received wide release this past spring, right around the point in the primaries where the U.S. presidential nominees were taking shape. Even at that recent point in history, the political truths exhibited in both films didn’t come across as strongly as they ring today when viewed on the cusp of the inauguration.
By Eric Shoag
It is hard to believe that when Leonard, Arthur, Julius, and Herbert Marx (better known by their stage names (Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Zeppo) assembled in early 1929 to make their first motion picture, most were already in their middle age: Chico, the firstborn, was 42, Harpo 40, Groucho 38, while Zeppo, the baby of the family born a full decade later, a mere 28. Something about their irrepressible energy, their irreverence, and their sheer outrageousness made them seem much younger, but those qualities had been honed to perfection over the previous two decades on the long hard road to stardom, as the family slowly but surely worked their way to the top of the vaudeville circuit and then Broadway. Over the twenty years that followed the brothers made a dozen more films (some against their better judgment), and while it is difficult to pick one as their absolute best, an argument could be made that they never surpassed their first five; the ones for Paramount Pictures before the infamous Hays Code imposed its “moral” guidelines on movie content, the ones that include Zeppo, and the ones the Brattle Theatre has chosen to screen this time around in their New Year’s Day marathon.
By Violet Acevedo
“Play it again, Sam.”
Those words are a myth, never uttered on screen in Casablanca (1942). “Play it” yes. And the music starts and Sam croons in that black-and-white, smoke-tinged gin joint, but no one asks him to play it “again.” The line is misquoted.
There’s a certain poetry in that mistake, though. How can one play or recreate the magic of Casablanca again? Great stories can never be remade or recaptured. Magic can only really happen once. It may sound hokey, but that is what Casablanca is: magic, a masterpiece of Hollywood cinema. Don’t believe me? Just go to the critics who constantly and consistently place Casablanca into their top ten films of all time.
By Stephen Mayne
It’s hard to imagine Kirk Douglas at 100, mostly because it feels like he exists outside the normal passing of time. He’s less of a walking man but more of an image captured forever on celluloid in the likes of Spartacus, Paths of Glory and Ace in the Hole. What makes him special is a unique blend of Technicolor heroism, dazzling charisma and more than a hint of darkness. He wraps himself in the latter two qualities for The Bad and the Beautiful, a heady mix of hagiography and cynicism that revels in the only subject Hollywood truly cares for: itself.
By Bridget Foster Reed
My sophomore year I’m sitting a few rows back to the far left in my Development of Western Civilization class, the hallmark requirement of an undergraduate degree at Providence College. Professor O’Malley, entrusted with the topic of World War I, asks the sleepy room of students, “Just muster a guess, when do you think the film Paths of Glory was released? Just a wild guess…” My hand shot up like Hermione Granger. As I finally came into O’Malley’s peripheral he called on me. “1957”, I said. O’Malley stepped back and put his hand on the podium in disbelief.
By Jessie McAskill
Ace in the Hole opens on a young Kirk Douglas behind the wheel of a convertible, carelessly engrossed in a newspaper, as the New Mexico desert sun drenches the setting through the blazing light of the black-and-white imagery. When the camera pans to reveal a tow truck pulling the car, Billy Wilder’s fingerprint jumps off the screen – no shot is wasted and there’s always something more to see in every scene. Wilder’s wry sense of humor sometimes disguises the somber themes in his work, similar to Wilder’s direction in Sunset Boulevard, the comedy and leading man draws the audience into a false sense of comfort before exposing the darker intentions at the core of those sentiments.
By Michael James Roberson
The key scene in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys happens early on, and it’s such a good gag that I’m loathe to spoil it, so if you have yet to see the movie, maybe skip to the end of this paragraph. Low-rent private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is trying to track down a lead, and tries unsuccessfully to get a bartender to pull receipts for him. March comes back to the bar after closing time, wraps a handkerchief around his fist, and punches a hole in the window to sneak in, all the while giving typical hardboiled narration about how sometimes as a detective, you have to break the rules, “but it’s worth it as long as you get the results.” Except as soon as he punches the window out, his narration is cut short when he gets a nasty cut on his wrist, retches, collapses into a pile of garbage, and in a montage is rushed to the hospital. This scene is an exemplary manifestation of screenwriter/director Shane Black’s aim to simultaneously celebrate the genre of neo-noir and hilariously puncture its self-serious tough guy attitude.