23 BLAST

Opened yesterday in NYC. Review coming soon.

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CITIZENFOUR

Opened yesterday in NYC. Review coming soon.

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THE GREAT INVISIBLE

Opened yesterday in NYC. Review coming soon.

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LAGGIES

Opened yesterday in NYC. Review coming soon.

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OUIJA

DebbieReview of Ouija by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

The makers of Ouija accomplished exactly what they set out to do: produce a low-budget movie for teenage girls and make quadruple the return on investment (on opening weekend, no less). Unfortunately, that was the only successful element of the laughable, board game-inspired film. Screenwriters Juliet Snowden and Stiles White infused elements from the entire horror genre (loud noises, crazy old women, a creaky attic) and somehow made them as dull and non-threatening as possible in the 89-minute flick. The story begins with friends Debbie and Laine as little girls, playing a Ouija board and discussing the three main rules: do not play alone, do not play in a graveyard, and always say goodbye.

Do not play alone: The film picks up a decade later as, “Debbie,” (Shelley Hennig) now a teenager, breaks the first rule and suffers the consequences. Since she played alone, she awakened a spirit in her house that causes her to tear down her room’s twinkle-lights, wrap them around her neck and hang, lifeless, in her house’s foyer. Her best friend “Laine” (Olivia Cooke) refuses to believe Debbie killed herself and enlists the help of her model-esque friends to get some answers by performing a séance around the ancient Ouija board.

Do not play in a graveyard: Almost the entire film is set in Debbie’s house as the friends search for clues in a dusty attic and obligatory, dark and scary basement. Although the Scooby gang doesn’t break the first two rules, they die one-by-one (on par with most horror flicks) for seemingly no reason. The spirit simply wants them dead and kills them by sewing each of their mouths shut with dental floss. Laine is left to figure out the mystery of the house’s spirits and pieces together clues from faded pictures and old newspaper headlines to end the madness.

Always say goodbye: Saying goodbye was an easy task for audience members seeing Ouija. A movie targeting a younger female audience or claiming to be on a micro-budget are not excuses for bad storytelling. There have been movies like Paranormal Activity made for a fraction of the cost that use narrative, suspense, and psychological thrills to keep the audience engaged and satisfied. Ouija tries to implement a little bit of everything but ultimately ends up with nothing at all. There are a few loud noises and a handful of disturbing images, but the lackluster backstory failed to enhance the already-pointless plot.

Originally intended to be a risky $200 million blockbuster, the film’s budget was reduced to $5 million and given relatively unknown actors to play one-dimensional roles. Olivia Cooke did a fine job as lead protagonist Laine, but coming from her role as sickly sidekick Emma Decody in the bone-chilling Bates Motel, she had to have known this was a big step down in quality material. I can imagine the amateur, problematic script was the main reason for the budget cut, but again, there have been plenty of noteworthy horror films made with less money than Ouija.

ouija-movie-1-720x380

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (10/26/14)

Top Photo: Shelley Hennig as “Debbie” looking for a spirit in her house

Bottom Photo: Olivia Cooke (center) as “Laine” with Daren Kagasoff as “Trevor,” Bianca A. Santos as “Isabelle,” Douglas Smith as “Pete,” and Ana Coto “Sarah” as they try to summon Debbie’s spirit

DigitalStampA Q #1: Does Ouija pass the Bechdel Test?

Yes, the friendship between Laine and Debbie is one of the major plotlines that is supposed to illicit emotion from the audience. There are videos of the friends shopping and taking pictures and promising to decorate their dorm rooms with purple furniture. Although it does pass the Bechdel Test, I cannot recommend the film.

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THE GOLDEN ERA

WeiTangBioPic stars Wei Tang as Chinese writer Xiao Hong. Focusing on the turbulent 1930s, when left-wing intellectuals lived in the heightened exhilaration of internal upheaval & Japanese invasion, Xiao Hong somehow keeps publishing despite pregnancies & romantic complications. (JLH: 4/5)

Suggestion for non-Chinese audiences: Read about Xiao Hong on Wikipedia before you go!

Directed by Ann Hui. Screenplay by Qiang Li. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

Who knew that in the midst of internal dissention between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, China produced at least two critically important feminist authors who made vital contributions to world literature? I certainly didn’t. This was the great joy of watching Ann Hui’s new biopic The Golden Era, starring Wei Tang as Chinese writer Xiao Hong in the turbulent 1930s. The relationship between “Xiao Hong” (Wei Tang) and her writer/mentor “Ding Lin” (Lei Hao), while not the focus by any means, is critical to the success of the film. Xiao unfortunately had a short, feverish life, dying of Tuberculosis in 1942 while Hong Kong was under intense Japanese bombardment. Ding Lin, who lived a long life, was more politically active than Xiao, but less poetic. She was a commander of the Red Chinese Mao’s forces and spent time at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the late ‘80s.

In the beginning of the film, the main character Xiao Hong informs the audience of her premature death through narration, along with third person characters detailing the long, three-hour epic following the course of her life. This beautiful, poetic young woman from a wealthy family lost her mother when she was young and grew up under the control of an oppressive father. When he tried to marry her off, she ran away with her student boyfriend “Xiao Jun,” (Shaofeng Feng) but continued to write even as she struggled through pregnancies and desertions. Although a majority of the film concerns her romantic life, Xiao chronicles her time with her powerful mentor, “Lu Xun” (Zhiwen Wang).

The five main characters are Xiao Hong, Xiao Jun, Lu Xun, her husband “Duanmu Hongliang,” (Yawen Zhu) and her friend Ding Lin. For an American audience, it’s difficult to watch when you aren’t familiar with the people and are trying to sort out the story and the characters at the same time. I enjoy long biopics, stemming from my love of Academy Award-winning Reds starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton, so although The Golden Era was disconcerting at times, it drew me in and made me want to read Xiao Hong’s books.

Ann Hui’s previous film A Simple Life was a small, intimate drama whereas The Golden Era is an epic about artistic and intellectual fervor of mid-1930s China. It was evident that she didn’t have the budget to do what she really wanted or needed to do. Where Reds had big, elaborate scenes with hundreds of people marching on the Winter Palace and crossing Central Asia, Ann Hui chose not to do that for this film. For example, during one scene where Xiao Hong is pregnant and trying to catch a ferry out of Hong Kong, she runs and passes out, but instead seeing of thousands, if not millions, of people around her, all you see is Xiao Hong alone on the dock. I don’t know if it was a decision on the director’s part to keep focused on her central character or if she just didn’t have the budget to do what she really should have done. Overall, I liked it a lot and thought gorgeous, talented Wei Tang did a incredible job. Going into the film with little knowledge of the content, I was fascinated, yet somewhat disoriented with figuring everything out. Although it’s hard to watch, it’s definitely worthwhile.

Comrades

Top Photo: Wei Tang stars as Chinese writer “Xiao Hong.”

Bottom Photo: Comrades in the fight against the Japanese.

Q: Does The Golden Era pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

Yes!

Although most of the personal story concerns Xiao Hong’s relationships with men, there are critical scenes with other women, most especially with Lei Hao as “Ding Lin.”

The Golden Era received 5 nominations for Taiwan’s 2014 Golden Horse Film Festival: Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Wei Tang) & Best Supporting Actress (Lei Hao). So I’m not the only one who found their bond critical!

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THE HACKER WARS

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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PRIVATE VIOLENCE

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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WATCHERS OF THE SKY

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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GETT

RonitGettFull Title = Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Searing Part 3 of a trilogy in which a woman from a large Moroccan-Israeli family must literally beg a Rabbinical Court to grant her a divorce–called a gett–from an over-bearing, oppressive, unyielding husband.

Brutal indictment of the Israeli government, which still allows Rabbis to wield so much patriarchal power in the 21st Century. (JLH: 4.5/5)

Written by, directed by & starring Ronit Elkabetz (in collaboration with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz).  Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. Not yet seen by Rich.

NOTE: I received a review copy of Gett in connection with two screenings of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem at the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival on 10/13/14 and 10/14/14.

A full review of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem will posted when the film is released in American theatres in 2015.

Note that Gett received the 2014 Ophir Award for Best Picture from the Israel Film Academy in September 2014, meaning it will be Israel’s candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2015. Click HERE to read my thoughts on the 2014 Ophir Awards.

Click HERE for more on Part One of this Trilogy = To Take a Wife

Click HERE for more on Part Two of this Trilogy = Shivah

TheJudges

Top Photo: “Viviane” (Ronit Elkabetz) appears in court day after day but is rarely allowed to speak.

Bottom Photo: The Rabbinical Court consists of three [male] judges = 1st Deputy (Rami Danon), Main Judge (Eli Gorstein) and 2nd Deputy (Roberto Pollack).

Photo Credits: Amit Berlowitz/Courtesy of Music Box Films

Q: Does Gett pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

This is a tough one, but I am going to say yes…

Although all of the Rabbinal Court Judges are male, both of the attorneys are male, most of the witnesses are male, and Viviane’s husband is male (d’uh), three women are also called as witnesses and two–Viviane’s sister-in-law (Keren Mor) and Viviane’s neighbor (Evelin Hagoel) are particularly memorable.

While it is clear that in context neither of them is allowed to speak directly to Viviane–since the Rabbinical Court requires them to speak only to the Judges–it is equally clear–from their facial expressions and body language–that they are speaking directly to her.

I am reminded of the wonderful book Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland which tells the true story behind Susan Glaspell’s essential drama A Jury of Her Peers. According to the authors–Patricia Bryan & Thomas Wolf–two women accompanied Margaret Hossack to court and sat by her side every day, even though they were not allowed to either testify or serve as members of the actual jury.

As I said, this is a judgment call, so I am making it: Yes, in my mind Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem definitely passes the Bechdel Test.

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