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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Ida

A Nun Finds Out She's Jewish

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: May 2, 2014 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Foreign
Running Time: 82 minutes
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, 
Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Cast: Agata Trzebuchowska, 
Agata Kulesza

Good priests and nuns are the truest of the true believers. But what if one of them were to discover that they're, in actuality, Jewish? That's the dilemma facing this film's central character, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a nun about to take her vows. Her real name, as it turns out, is Ida Lebenstein. She meets her aunt, Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), and embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

The nun's response to the startling news is curiously muted. I was expecting an explosion, but she barely reacts. Have years of living in a convent taught her to cloak her true emotions in a seemingly unattainable attempt to embody God's grace? After all, nuns can't exactly scream angrily and shout four-letter words whenever something is bothering them. That wouldn't be kosher.

Set in 1960s Poland and shot superbly in black and white, "Ida" powerfully evokes a specific sense of time and place. Stark and dark with striking imagery that makes extensive use of light and shadow, an air of mystery, tension, and unease permeates this visually stunning film.

After Ida finds out who she really is, her next question naturally has to do with her parents. What happened to them? How did they die? She and her aunt go on a road trip to seek some answers. That takes them back 20 years, to a much darker period in human history. I won't spoil what it is I'm referring to, but you can do the math. What they find out will haunt them – and us.

Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza deliver wonderful, natural performances. The two ladies are a contrast in styles – in both looks and personality. Ida, the nun, is generally silent and contemplative. Her aunt is the opposite: outgoing and outspoken. They make a strange pairing – the nun and the Jew. Oddly, almost no one wonders what they're doing together. That would be the first question I'd ask!

Even though they drive to many places, meet many people, and ask many questions, the story still feels somewhat slight. Not much actually happens. It's as slow as a Sunday sermon. Sister Ida is steadfast in her determination to remain unchanged. She clings stubbornly to her old habit(s). That may score her points with the Pope, but it makes for a lethargic moviegoing experience.

Still, no one in Ida's situation can remain completely unaffected. By the end, the young nun does finally allow herself to experience a series of emotional milestones as she struggles to come to terms with who she was, who she is, and who she ultimately wants to be.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Matt's Movie Mortuary: Devil's Due

Should Not Have Gone Full Term

By Matt Wintz

Release Date: January 17, 2014 – U.S.
Genre: Horror
Running Time: 89 minutes
Directors: Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
Writer: Lindsay Devlin
Cast: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, 
Vanessa Ray, Roger Payano, Bill Martin Williams, 
Geraldine Singer, Julia Senton, Colin Walker

A review ago, I tackled a found-footage movie called "Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes" and I found myself staring at another one for this review, a movie I had been looking forward to entitled "Devil’s Due." It follows a young, recently married couple on their honeymoon by the names of Zach and Samantha McCall, and they are enjoying time in the Dominican Republic. When deciding to try and make it back to their hotel, they get picked up by a taxi driver who insists on taking them to a party, and they both end up passed out. Thanks to their video camera hidden in Samantha’s bag, we see they are taken to some sort of underground cult area where Samantha is the focal point of some sort of ritual. This then leads to the expected reveal weeks later that, even though she’d been taking her birth control pills every day, she is now pregnant.

Of course, with every pregnancy comes changes in the mother, and in "Devil’s Due" these take on a demonic nature. The vegetarian Samantha chows down on raw meat while in the supermarket, her rage is unexpected and powerful, like when she smashes in a car’s windows for nearly backing into her. She repeatedly goes into a semi-trance and when Zach tries to pull her out of it, she will snap at him or grab his arm and twist, bringing him to the point of pain. The couple also begin to notice people starting to watch their house or watch them from the street, and this coincides with a change in doctors at their next appointment. The group of people even go so far as putting hidden camera throughout the couple’s home while they are out, which allows for a little bit of a change of pace then the feeling that one character is carrying around a camera the entire time.

More strange goings-on occur during the last two months of Samantha’s pregnancy, such as at month eight when they attend the first communion of their niece. During the service, the priest is unable to take his eyes off Sam and is given a bloody nose and fit of violent coughs that result with him vomiting blood. After taking Samantha home, Zach begins to review the footage of the event, along with his honeymoon, and begins to realize there is definitely something wrong with both how his wife is acting and how she got pregnant in the first place, especially since the cab driver from their honeymoon is sitting in the church. He goes to meet the priest in the hospital, taking with him a series of symbols he found throughout the tape, and the priest tells him it deals with the coming of the first antichrist, and that there will be more. From here on out, Zach decides he needs to investigate a supposedly abandoned house down the street where he notices the growing number of strange people to be coming from. I don’t want to fully spoil the rest of the movie, but it does then delve into more "Paranormal Activity" realm as we get cult people, weird happenings, and an ending that does leave the movie a bit open-ended.

I mentioned before how I had been looking forward to this movie, and after finally sitting down to watch it, I have to be completely honest that there was a feeling of disappointment. Many of the weird things feel tired by this point, with four "Paranormal Activity" entries, along with numerous knock-offs, having done similar storylines or pieces. Whereas I had hopes of this becoming a great entry in the subgenre like "The Last Exorcism," this film just came up short in scares, characters, and story. When the weird things start happening, it’s far too late, as the movie seemed to slow burn with less-than-medium level scares up to this point. The best way to explain this movie is the way it has been described online, and that is a cross between "Paranormal Activity" and "Rosemary’s Baby," but nowhere near as good as either of those. This felt more like a low-budget direct-to-video release that was lucky enough to have a big budget treatment, and it never reached the heights that it set for itself. For a better found-footage horror film with great backstory, I’d definitely say stick with "Blair Witch Project" or "Paranormal Activity."

The other problem is the holes in the story that are meant to add fear or anxiety but just fall short. Why or how does the cabbie from their honeymoon show up in their church? What happened to the original doctor? Was she murdered or just left her practice? If the Priest is such a Godly guy, why does the mention of the Anti-Christ immediately make him unwilling to help someone coming to him for help? Okay, I get the fact the filmmakers wanted to add something unnerving or creepy to get you to go "Oh what the hell..." but here, it’s just more like "ho-hum." Nothing in this movie is scary, or even mildly creepy. It just seems to walk through a generic blue-print of found-footage horror.

Sadly, for the first time in the Mortuary’s short history, I have to say this is one that should be skipped altogether. It is currently available on Blu-Ray and DVD.