Director Michael Caton-Jones has a few interesting runs on the board, with his best film being 1995’s Rob Roy, but he’s been languishing a bit since 2006’s Basic Instinct 2 crashed and burned. Here he brings a journeyman’s efficiency and a practiced eye to the proceedings, using real locations to good effect (Syracuse standing on for Brooklyn) to draw us into the sepia-toned, ritualistic world of Jewish organised crime (see also: Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, David Mamet’s Homicide, or even Sidney Lumet’s oddity, A Stranger Among Us for more in this vein).
ASHER's key strength, though, is its cast. Perlman brings real complexity to the role of Asher, using his physicality to good effect (in his severe suit and handmade leather shoes, Asher looks like Karloff’s Frankenstein in silhouette) but also giving us a sense of his oppressive loneliness and yearning for connection. Janssen, always an underrated performer, makes Sophie not a prize to be won but a real person with her own life and problems – chief among them her mother, Dora (Jacqueline Bisset), who is suffering from advanced dementia. Bisset herself is remarkable in that challenging role, with Dora functioning as both a rather horrifying harbinger of old age (something Asher wrestles with) and a character in her own right. The character’s presence also allows for some gallows humour as Asher, who lest we forget is not just a nice guy but a really efficient killer, offers the most obvious solution to the issue at hand.
As a crime thriller, ASHER hits familiar beats with perfunctory precision, just like its hulking protagonist. It’s charm lies not in its genre trappings, but in the way it works as a late life romantic drama dressed up in John Wick’s old clothes. Asher is meditative rather than pulse-pounding, so while it won’t sate those solely looking for shoot-em-up set-pieces, it’s a quietly commanding little film nonetheless.
ASHER is available on DVD through Eagle Entertainment on April 4, 2019.
It’s a passing angsty teen fancy, of course – Leah doesn’t really want her mother dead and, besides, none of this black magic nonsense really works, right? Except this time it does, and Leah must now figure out a way to undo the summoning in the face of a series of increasingly creepy events that will, as both she and canny horror viewers know, culminate in her mother’s death.
Taking several leaves from the upper echelon Blumhouse playbook, MacDonald leans on atmosphere and performance rather than elaborate special effects, building dread and foreboding on a relatively basic narrative foundation that nonetheless provides ample opportunity for chills. Which is not to say that we don’t get the odd bit of splatter – just that scenes such as when Leah’s friend Janice (Chloe Rose) stays over at the house and they find her sitting in the car in the morning, terrified out of her wits and refusing to say why, are far more effective.
There’s not too much else to say about PYEWACKET (the title, by the way, comes from the recorded name of a demonic familiar to one of witchfinder Matthew Hopkins’ victims – history is fun) without going into detail that’s better off discovered in the course of viewing. It lacks the narrative verve and dizzying genre ambition of last year’s Hereditary, with which it shares a few commonalities, but it’s a solid, well-crafted entry nonetheless. MacDonald is going to be worth keeping an eye on if he continues down this path.
Pyewacket is released on DVD via Eagle Entertainment on April 10, 2019.
Between its high-stakes whodunnit, moral dilemmas and juicy family gossip constantly being revealed, viewers will find themselves hooked instantly.
The film’s plot sees Laura (Cruz) and her two children return to her tight knit hometown for a wedding, only for her daughter Irene (Carla Campra) to disappear under suspicious circumstances. A text message soon arrives from kidnappers demanding a ransom, which sounds a bit like a rehash of story beats from Taken at first glance, but Farhadi instead uses it as a springboard for exploring his characters and their relationships. For instance, although Paco (Bardem) is treated like another
member of Laura’s immediate family, many years ago he was merely the son of their servant. A successful vineyard owner by the time we are introduced to him, Paco becomes torn between helping his lifelong friends and respecting the boundaries of their family; after all, he’s built up his own life by this point. Similarly, Laura’s parents and siblings each form their own theories for who is behind the kidnapping and what should be done to get Irene back, which inevitably clash and make for some classic ‘dinner table argument’ scenes. While I can’t say whether any of them are ultimately right without the risk of spoiling some excellent twists, I found the resolution to each mystery Farhadi teased to be highly satisfying.
As my focus on his character’s arc may have suggested, Bardem is easily the standout among the film’s impressive cast. While English-speaking audiences will most likely recognise him from a memorable string of villainous turns (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Paco is Bardem’s most thoughtful and charming role since Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’m admittedly a sucker for any actor successfully playing against type, yet watching Bardem exhibit a full gamut of emotions throughout EVERYBODY KNOWS truly reveals how under-utilised he is as a character actor, at least in his English roles. Cruz is unfortunately given less to do, which surprised me given how well Farhadi’s scripts usually flesh out their protagonists. Nevertheless, her portrayal of Laura’s unthinkable loss makes the most of its limited scope; even when she’s relegated to the background of a scene, Cruz is able to say more with simple looks than plenty of lesser actors could with monologues.
It’s also worth noting that, their characters’ long friendship notwithstanding, Farhadi thankfully resists the urge to stunt cast real-life couple Bardem and Cruz as husband and wife here; from Eyes Wide Shut to By the Sea, such a move has consistently proven to detract from performances. By contrast, Laura’s husband Alejandro is played by Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin, who brings an enigmatic calmness perfect for a character whose absence looms over the film’s first half. When Alejandro finally arrives, EVERYBODY KNOWS’ drama kicks into its highest gear as secrets quickly spill out, allowing the supporting cast to shine and carry their own remarkably well opposite Bardem and Cruz. In fact, despite Farhadi’s interest in family dynamics being clear from his past work, this is the largest ensemble I’ve ever seen him work with. While he certainly succeeds at delivering the tension a kidnapping plot requires, I was most impressed by how well this is combined with an intricately woven web of relationships. EVERYBODY KNOWS is a consistently captivating, fascinating career move that proves Farhadi is a filmmaker who’s (forgive me,) well worth knowing about.
Ignoring the printed world of Marvel, the MCU has come a long way since Iron Man kick-started it all in 2008. Looking back to its retrospectively humble beginnings, the franchise has gone on to monopolise cinema-screens with its intricate tapestry of stories and timelines. Personally, I enjoyed the novelty of the franchise early on, but found myself wearied and disconnected as the series unfolded. And so you can imagine my mixed emotions when Captain Marvel comes along and kicks some serious ass. Just when I thought I was on the outskirts of this cinematic movement, they pull me back in. Dammit… MCU21 is a belter and I cannot deny it due credit.
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