FlixChatter Review: PILGRIMAGE (2017)

It’s been ages since I’ve got time to write a review, but I knew I had to write one for this after I saw it last weekend.

I’ve mentioned PILGRIMAGE all the way back in January 2016. It’s been a long time coming but I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen (though it’s a shame it’s only playing in a single theatre in Twin Cities suburbs with odd screen times!)

In 13th century Ireland, a group of monks must escort a sacred relic across an Irish landscape fraught with peril.

The premise is simple, but it’s packs a punch in terms of its thought-provoking story and the unrelenting violence these monks face along the journey. It opens with a horrific stoning of Saint Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot following his betrayal. The barren landscape of Ireland, an island on the edge of the world is striking… there’s otherworldly feel to this raw, beautifully-shot film that immediately grabs your attention.

I saw this film mainly for the French actor Stanley Weber who plays a Cistercian priest, Brother Geraldus, and boy did he make quite an entrance. He came to the monastery and soon the monks are on a pilgrimage to escort a holy relic all the way to Rome. Naturally there’s tension mounting between the monks themselves, each have their own views of the significance of this relic.

Pilgrimage explores the themes of what faith means to people. It’s not a deep study of the subject, but it certainly makes a compelling case about religious fanaticism and that radical ‘faith’ can ultimately lead to radical consequences. The film is more of an ensemble cast comprised of four main characters, Tom Holland as Brother Diarmuid (the novice), Stanley Weber as the Cisterian, Jon Bernthal (the mute with a violent past) and Richard Armitage (Norman knight Raymond). I’d say Bernthal is perhaps the most fascinating of the four, simply because of his charismatic, wordless performance that makes you wonder throughout just exactly who this man is. He’s loyal to a fault to the monks but you know he’s a ruthless and dangerous man. It’s a physical role but that demands a quiet menace which Bernthal pulls off with aplomb.

Acting-wise, Holland, Bernthal and Weber are the most memorable to me. Armitage is good but I feel like he’s basically reprising his role as Guy of Gisborne in BBC Robin Hood, though his French is rather impressive. Interesting that Holland and Bernthal are now part of the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe (as Spiderman and Punisher respectively), but they’re both such talented actors that I hope they’ll continue to seek out smaller work such as this one that stretch their acting ability. Weber might not be a household name yet despite being cast in season 2 of Outlander, but he’s certainly got the charisma and acting chops of a leading man.

The film is quite violent, especially the attack in the woods that left practically everyone slashed, chopped and bludgeoned to death. There’s also a torture scene involving a Medieval torture device that sure made me wince. The action didn’t let up until the very end, set in a desolate beach that really takes your breath away. It’s so refreshing to see something unique that doesn’t fit the Hollywood mold. This is one of those rare films that’s not based on any literary works but is an original script by Jamie Hannigan. I love that director Brendan Muldowney also uses many languages in the film, Gaelic, French, Latin, English. I also appreciate that the film is shot on location, you can practically feel the misty air and cold breeze as you’re watching the film, which adds to the intense, gritty and bloody realism of the film.

If this is playing near you, I urge you to see it on the big screen. We need to support original films like this one as it’s becoming even more of a rarity. Made with a shoestring budget yet generates a big impact, I certainly don’t mind seeing this again on Bluray. I so agree with Keith’s review that big budgets aren’t essential to good moviemaking… and this film is definitely a testament of that.



Have you seen ‘PILGRIMAGE’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Annabelle: Creation (2017)

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Directed By: David F. Sandberg
Written By: Gary Dauberman
Runtime: 1 hr 49 minutes

I’ve never understood why people find dolls in horror movies scary. They can’t bend their limbs, they’re usually made of porcelain or plastic or something else not very durable, and they’re usually not any taller than your knee. You can just drop-kick the thing away from you. As someone who is thoroughly unimpressed by possessed dolls and hasn’t seen any of the other Conjuring series movies (I KNOW, I’m a bad horror fan; I promise they’re on my list), I didn’t expect this movie to be that scary. I was wrong.

In Annabelle: Creation, a group of orphans (Lulu Wilson as Linda, Talitha Bateman as Janice, Grace Fulton as Carol, Philippa Coulthard as Nancy, Lou Lou Safran as Tierney, and Tayler Buck as Kate) and the nun in charge of them, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into the house of Esther and Samuel Mullins (Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia), who have opened their home to the girls after losing their own young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), twelve years earlier. After Janice finds a mysterious doll hidden away in Bee’s old bedroom one night, things quickly take a turn for the horrifying.

What makes the Annabelle doll work in this movie is that it’s not overused to the point of being silly. It’s prominent, obviously, but it’s mostly shown in shadowy angles and blurry shots that make its presence even scarier. As Father Massey (Mark Bramhall) explains, the doll is a conduit- a tool for the demon to use to gain footing in the world of the living. As creepy a the doll is, the demon itself is even more frightening. The special effects in this movie are excellent. The few glimpses we get of the demon’s true form-specifically, the way it morphs and moves-are truly unsettling, and there’s one moment we see it in Bee’s old bedroom that left me really shaken. All of this, combined with superb pacing, keeps the suspense high throughout the whole movie.

That said, this movie isn’t flawless. Much of the dialogue between best friends Linda and Janice is so unrealistically cheesy it would make Little Orphan Annie cringe. It’s not the actresses’ faults-we already know Lulu Wilson has serious horror acting chops after last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, and all of her and Talitha Bateman’s non-verbal acting is great. It’s either a writing problem or a directing problem. On the subject of writing, Mrs. Mullin’s explanation for the supernatural ocurrences toward the end of the film is both heavy-handed and vague; if there had been a little more foreshadowing earlier in the movie, I might have been able to accept it more easily, but for a movie whose title implies we would be learning where the evil entity tied to the Annabelle doll comes from, it could have been more fleshed-out.

Overall, though, this is a fantastic, genuinely scary horror movie. I would definitely watch it again, and now I want to marathon the other movies in the series as soon as possible. If you like horror, you should absolutely check this out.

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Have you seen ‘Anabelle: Creation’? Well, what did you think? 

Indie Film Spotlight: LET ME GO + Interview with writer/director Polly Steele

When I first heard about Let Me Go about a year ago, I was immediately intrigued. Not just in terms of its story, but I’ve always been a champion of #womeninfilm and this one has a female writer/director AND a terrific female ensemble cast! I really wanted to see the film at Bentonville Film Festival last Spring, but I had just wrapped my first short film Hearts Want so I timing just was issue. But thanks to Evolutionary Films for sending me the screener link that I was able to see it last month.

The film is based on a true story, and though films about the holocaust are a dime a dozen, writer/director Polly Steele told the story from an unconventional perspective. It’s a unique and compelling approach on a real life story from the past that’s still relevant today. I love the talented female cast who effectively portrayed three generation of daughters being affected by a horrific past. It’s a thought-provoking, heartbreaking yet beautiful film that I wish I could see on the big screen. If you get a chance to see this, don’t miss it. Not only is it an absorbing tale, it’s also a visually striking film with an equally gorgeous score.

Let Me Go is a film about mothers and daughters, it is about ghosts from the past and the impact they leave on the present. Developed from Helga Schneider’s true life story, it explores the effect on Helga’s life of being abandoned by her mother, Traudi in 1941 when she was just four years old. The film is set in the year 2000 following not only Helga and Traudi’s journeys but the next two generations and how Beth, Helga’s daughter and Emily her granddaughter are confronted with the long-term effects of Traudi’s leaving.

 

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Read my interview with Polly Steele on her journey into bringing Helga Schneider’s story to life on screen…

Q: There are so many films about the holocaust done already but your film tells a story from such a different perspective, that is from the family of the perpetrators, instead of the victims. Can you tell me what inspired you to write this story?

When I first found this story I had no idea what attracted me to it. Looking back it was probably the vulnerable face of a small child in the black and white photo on the back cover. This vulnerability echoed inside me somewhere and I read the book. I know that trauma arises from all sides in a conflict and Helga’s trauma is no less valid than anyone else’s. Helga’s story was a difficult story to tell after the war had ended, there was no space for stories like hers. Now that 75 years has past since the war, I think we can acknowledge that innocent children from all sides of a conflict suffer. We cannot move on from our own suffering unless we acknowledge the suffering of others.

Q: How did you first hear about Helga Schneider? Can you tell us the process of getting the rights to tell her story and how long it took you to write the script?

Polly (right) meeting Helga in Italy

After reading the book, I flew to Milan to meet her, she only spoke Italian and a little French and I spoke English and French and so we used her agent to translate and we sussed each other out with a lot of looking into each others eyes. I think we came to an understanding that day and I felt that she entrusted me with her life story, I am very grateful to her.

After seven years of writing and re-writing the script, working with various different companies and even putting it aside for a while, somehow the right team came together, the energy changed and here we are having raised the money in a year and made the film the following year, but the whole process was 10 years in the making.

Q: How involved was Helga herself in making this film? I believe you flew to Italy to meet with her?

After meeting her the first time, we kept in touch, I would write to her asking her questions and she would write back . I would google translate and on it went. After a couple of drafts of being completely true to her story I made a leap to include the two youngest characters who are fictitious, because I was fascinated with inherited trauma. I made these creative decisions with Helga’s blessing. The two new characters are based on information given to us by Helga who wanted to protect the real identity of her close family members. She understands now that her story has continued to affect those who came after her and that is what the film focuses on. Ironically when I met her again just before we started filming she told me that the two new characters were very accurate relative to her own experience.

Traudi (Karin Bertling), Beth (Jodhi May) Helga (Juliet Stevenson) and Emily (Lucy Boynton) – Andrew Ogilvy Photography

Q: I love the idea of a multi-generation of daughters being affected and dealing with a shared past. Would you share about the casting process for Juliet Stevenson, Lucy Boynton and Jodhi May, as well as Stanley Weber as the only prominent male character in the film?

Juliet came on board very early on. She read the script and then we met and she followed the films progress always remaining committed. She was our rock.  Jodhi also met me early on in the process and committed whole heartedly, she was fascinated by the subject of inherited trauma and also stayed with us until we were green lit. Lucy I saw on a taped video that she did in L.A and immediately thought she had a special something, elegance, an innocent maturity if that is possible and a very natural look on the screen. Lucy could only confirm very close to shooting but thats because she was up for another film at the same time but luckily we got her! Karin was the last to join and the most difficult character to cast. No one wanted to be a hardcore Nazi… but then we cast our net wider and Karin was waiting in the wings in Stockholm and she is a Gem! I am very proud of all of them and Stanley Weber, and Eva Magyar, I think they all did an amazing job.

Stanley Weber in a still from the film

Q: This is the second narrative feature you wrote and directed. What’s the biggest challenge for you as indie filmmaker in terms of bringing your story vision to life?

These days making an independent feature is an incredibly difficult task…to get the stars to align is a rare and beautiful thing but I also believe that as a woman it has been even harder. This was not an easy story to tell, but I had an amazing team of people supporting me and the film. My producer Lizzie Pickering who has been incredible, raising money relentlessly, never giving up as well as our Executive Producers Georges Tsitos who kept us on track from the beginning and then Rupert Labrum who was our first serious investor and stayed loyally with us until the end and many more who subsequently joined. We gathered support by holding storytelling circles in peoples houses and inviting them to listen to a video of Helga and hear her story and then slowly, slowly the money came.

Q: There are some really difficult scenes to watch, especially between Helga and her mother. Can you tell me what’s been the most challenging aspect of filming this?

Filming any scene whatever the content is about making sure that the actors are 100% in the space and time and world that they are meant to be inhabiting, that way they are authentic and then we have done our job. The whole reason that the scenes between Traudi and Helga are different from anything that I have seen before on this subject is that Traudi makes us understand from her perspective what normal was for them in that extreme situation. It is untenable for us in our world knowing what happened, to accept what she says but it’s equally important that we realise what it was like in their shoes. Helga’s dearest wish is that the film may play a tiny part in preventing history from repeating itself.

Still from Let Me Go trailer – All images are courtesy of Evolutionary Films

Q: I love that the films are shot on location and it was stunningly shot by Michael Wood, set to a lush score by Phil Selway. Can you share about finding the locations in the UK and Austria, as well as the scoring process?

Michael Wood is an amazing D.O.P but then he also had the fabulous Alex Walker our designer to pair up with. The two of them did a beautiful job with few resources. David Broder our other producer found Minley Manor in Kent which was used for the old peoples home and then we decided that being in a few key places in Vienna was crucial, like the Judenplatz and so made the financial commitment to shoot in Vienna too. Michael understood very quickly what I wanted to do with the light in this film and the energy of the restless camera. I feel he achieved a great look and Alex also indulged my minimalist approach to spaces, allowing me to eliminate a lot of props and furniture so that we could really focus on the emotional intensity in some of the scenes. We had a great thing going between the three of us. I also want to mention Daniel Goddard who I have worked with for many years as an editor, he too completely understood what I was aiming for, he is a very sensitive and experienced editor and worked wonders.

Philip Selway has been amazing from the absolute beginning. He came on board before most other people and immediately started talking to me about the script. He was so supportive and also so positive about the story, he really understood the themes and spent a lot of time building up sound beds and themes laying the foundations for what turned out to be a stunningly beautiful score. Philip was key in keeping me true to my initial ideas.

Q: Last but not least, would you tell me some of films that’ve influenced you, particularly those dealing with WWII?

I actually grew up in many different countries but spent ten years of my childhood in France and was very influenced by French films. They have far more stories that are about the emotional journey rather than the physical one and that very much influences how I like to tell stories. I can’t say that I see this film as a WWII film and so never approached it like that. I just wanted to tell the story of a family , who had lost their men in the war and had to find their way in the world together, four women , carrying with them a secret that was so extraordinarily heavy, a secret that could have destroyed them all, but they were given a moment in time to let it go, to tell the truth and to let it go and in that way there is hope.
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The film is available in UK cinemas & digital download on September 15. Hopefully it’ll be available in the US soon.
For more info visit Letmegomovie.com


Thanks so much Polly for chatting with me!

FlixChatter Review – Atomic Blonde (2017)

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Directed By: David Leitch
Written By: Kurt Johnstad (screenplay)
Runtime: 1 hr 55 minutes

When I found out I would be reviewing this film, I pulled up an article on it for a little background information-and made the mistake of reading the comments. They were mostly all the same, with guys accusing Atomic Blonde of being pandering and asserting that the movie is unrealistic because women are too frail and weak to be badass action heroes. It was infuriating, and it made me hope that that this movie would be amazing, just to spite the trolls. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

In Atomic Blonde, an adaptation of the graphic novel series The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) recounts her mission in Cold War Berlin to track down a list of double agents to MI6 executive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA official Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). From the moment she meets up with fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy), Lorraine is plunged into danger and intrigue as she works to complete her mission.

This is an incredibly fun action movie. The fight choreography is impressive, ranging from creative and graceful to realistically graphic, and even some of that is surprisingly gorgeous; there’s one scene where blood is spattered on a large painting of a woman’s face right on her mouth, making it look almost like a messy lipstick kiss. Having it all set to a phenomenal soundtrack of 80’s rock makes it even more entertaining. 
 The technical aspects of the movie are impressive as well. The editing is tight and creative; one moment that stands out is in a scene where a body being thrown into a river, and as soon as it hits the surface, the scene cuts to Lorraine’s face breaking the water as she sits up in a bathtub. There are several gorgeous, well-balanced shots. The film overall is dark and gritty but glossy, which is perfect for a graphic novel adaptation, although the green filter is a little overused.

It can be hard to critique acting in a movie like this when so much of the focus is on the action and visuals, but Charlize Theron and James McAvoy still manage to shine in their roles. Theron is cold, calculating, and tough but still shows brief moments of panic and sadness without being melodramatic. McAvoy is so much fun to watch in this as well; he is so good at acting goofy but still a little unhinged and sinister (as proven in Split earlier this year). My one critique is some of their line reads are hard to understand, but I’m not sure if they’re mumbling or if there’s a sound-mixing problem.
 If you’re looking for a fun, beautifully-shot action movie to see this summer, you should definitely check this out. Ignore the trolls.

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Have you seen ‘Atomic Blonde’? Well, what did you think?