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Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2014

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska
Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance
Rating: R for language and brief nudity.
Grade: A

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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is more of a vampire art film than a horror movie, but I’m including it anyway. It’s a slow-paced, beautifully-shot romance following two centuries-old vampires as they continue to gravitate back toward each other. Tilda Swinton as Eve has an amazing, commanding presence on screen, and Tom Hiddleston as Adam is well-matched. Together, the pair searches for fresh sources of blood to drink in between discussions about music, art, the current state of humankind, and the experiences they’ve had over the years (playwright Christopher Marlowe — played by John Hurt — is an old friend and fellow vampire). The film’s soundtrack is a strong complement to the gorgeous cinematography, which spans locations such as Detroit, Michigan and Tangier, Morocco. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is amusing, charming and an altogether delightful little film about a love that really endures everything.

‘The Sacrament’
Release Date: May 1, 2014
Director: Ti West
Starring: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content including bloody images, language, and brief drug use.
Grade: B+

sacrament

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/Magnolia Home Entertainment.

“The Sacrament” is found-footage horror done right, as it tells a fictionalized account of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. The story follows three “VICE” reporters as they travel to Eden Parish, a mysterious religious commune located in the remote wilderness, where one reporter’s sister has been supposedly thriving after recovering from drug addiction. The presence of the film crew and their probing questions seem to disrupt the equilibrium of the sect and force its leadership to a violent breaking point. “The Sacrament” is a pretty satisfying horror film for any cult enthusiasts, and it effectively creates an environment of high tension leading up to a tremendous, explosive conclusion. The only part that really drags is the interview with Father (Gene Jones), the cult leader, who is given way too much screen time to ramble on and on about his beliefs. But such are cult leaders, yeah?

‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2014
Director: Adam Robitel
Starring: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay and Michelle Ang
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language, and brief nudity.
Grade: D-

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Photo courtesy of Eagle Films/Millennium Entertainment.

This was a terrible disappointment. I thought “The Taking of Deborah Logan” was going to be about an elderly woman who appears to have Alzheimer’s disease but is, in fact, turning into a zombie, but the actual movie was a lot more convoluted and a lot less logical than that. The first half of the film is found-footage horror at its worst — completely pointless and unoriginal “Paranormal Activity”-style scares in the middle of the night as a team of filmmakers plan to study the effects the degenerative disease has on the lives of a woman and her daughter. When the truth finally begins to unfold, the increasingly ridiculous plot twists are revealed hurriedly and accepted unquestioningly (and somehow still captured on film although the guise of the documentary had long since become shaky). There’s only one moment of really good creepy imagery at the very end, but you’re better off just looking at a .gif and skipping “The Taking of Deborah Logan.”

‘The Babadook’
Release Date: Nov. 28, 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman and Daniel Henshall
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

the-babadook

Photo courtesy of Cinetic Media/eOne Films International/IFC Films.

“The Babadook” is a great achievement for modern horror. It is mentally and emotionally disturbing — scary in a way that transcends gore and relies entirely on an increasing sense of dread. “The Babadook” is just supernatural enough to leave the audience delightfully and horribly mystified: how much horror is real and how much is just in our own twisted minds? There are phenomenal performances all around. Essie Davis stars as Amelia, a widowed single mother who is trying her best to raise her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and maintain her sanity after her husband’s violent death. Wiseman also gives a stellar performance as the weird little kid who is obsessed with building weapons and fighting monsters, which only further isolates the family from the outside world. Everything about “The Babadook” is well executed and eerie. And it leaves you with something interesting to think about, which is the best way to end a film.

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Film review: ‘Mitt’

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Photo courtesy of Netflix.

A few lofty assertions are made about the Netflix documentary “Mitt” in its promotional material:

1. “For six years, one filmmaker had exclusive access to Mitt Romney.” Well, it really doesn’t seem like it, because the majority of the footage is taken from directly before or after presidential debates or at other integral campaign events, showing very little of the promised “behind-the-scenes” moments of the Romneys in their natural habitat.

2. “Whatever side you’re on, see another side.” Well, not really. It’s not as if Romney As A Devoted Family Man is a shockingly new angle on the story — everyone has been exposed to Romney’s public image already, and “Mitt” doesn’t bother to delve any deeper than that.

But, what was I really expecting?

That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the documentary. I had similar feelings coming out of One Direction’s “This Is Us” documentary last summer: ‘Well, that was a clearly scripted promotional tool/moneymaking device.’ But, well, duh. And then I went to see it again.

Likewise, I enjoyed watching “Mitt,” but at 92 minutes, it barely scratches the surface, and I wanted so much more.

It begins in 2006, capturing a few choice moments from the lead-up to Romney’s loss to Senator John McCain during the 2008 primary. Leaving out nearly all of the political elements of the political campaign, “Mitt” instead focuses on the family life of the politician (and expects the viewer to keep track of about 112 Romney family members that filter in and out).

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Photo courtesy of Netflix.

My favorite Romney, Josh (identifiable only because he has a slightly stronger jaw than his brother Matt), has a good moment of attempted realism, providing both his “media answer” and “actual answer” to the question, “Is it worth it?” After the 2008 primary is said and done, the family, as a whole, agrees vehemently that running for office is not worth it and they will never do it again.

The documentary then skips ahead several years to file footage of Mitt appearing onstage at the 2012 Republican National Convention to accept his party’s nomination for President. This, I think, deserved much more of a segue.

The film also ends extremely abruptly without showing any return to normalcy or adjusting to life after losing a presidential election. Instead, Ann and Mitt walk inside their home, sit awkwardly on opposite ends of the room, then credits roll.

Mitt is an interesting person, just as villains usually have more interesting origin stories than their good-guy counterparts. Romney’s history is full of incidences of being good but never the best, culminating with his unsuccessful presidential campaign. He idolizes his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney (which is showcased, albeit subtly, in the documentary when Romney speaks passionately about his father’s accomplishments or hangs his father’s old campaign posters on his bus), and has always put great effort into doing things of which his father would be proud.

That’s what I want to watch a documentary about.

I found the rare, honest glimpses into Romney’s true character pretty interesting, and I would love to see a documentary focus more on that. I was pleasantly surprised by his self-deprecating sense of humor. During one of the many family pep talks featured in the film, one of the Romneys (probably Tagg) says, “A year ago, we told you that we’d love you no matter how this thing turned out, and—“ “And now you’re not so sure,” Mitt interjects with a wry smile.

Romney would make for a fantastic character study, but I’m not sure we’ll ever have the opportunity to truly lift the veil. Until then, “Mitt” only provides some partial insight.

‘Mitt’
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2014
Director: Greg Whiteley
Starring: Mitt Romney, Ann Romney and Taggart Romney
Genre: Documentary, Biography, Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B