Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chasing Mama's Hive

     Today's offerings include a shameless message movie...or two...and a better than average horror flick produced my the genre's modern maestro...

  In The Hive - I originally considered including this film in my 2012 viewing schedule because it was the late Malcolm Clarke Duncan's final film and kept it on the list because I absolutely love actress Loretta Devine.  She lives up to her name as usual, and Mr. Duncan does respectable work, but this is a horrible B-grade message movie that could have been a made for TV after school special apart from the acting talent involved. By message movie I mean that the plot was made to suit the moral rather than allowing the film's thematic implications to grow from (or at least compliment) the story.  Please don't allow this to make you believe that I don't care about the plight of inner city youth, I just don't enjoy it when a film maker tries to manipulate my emotions on any topic in such a shameless and clumsy manner.
     I'm not sure why writing Glitter would have influenced anyone to produce another screenplay from writer Cheryl L West, nor why someone whose finger is usually more on the pulse of entertainment as Robert L Townsend's is to choose this as a directing project.  I DO know that (unfortunately) there are not enough quality roles available for actors like Devine and Duncan for them to pass something like this up.  It's too late for anyone to give Mr. Duncan another role that allows him to shine the way that he did in The Green Mile, but please, please, PLEASE can someone give Ms. Devine a project worthy of her talents.  This sure wasn't it, although she does redeem the film SOMEWHAT...2 out of 5 stars.

  Mama - Guillermo del Toro is one of the great masters of the horror genre.  The man knows how to set a scene for suspense.  He executive produced this film, and the newest director to benefit from his mentoring (Andres Muschietti, who also co-wrote the script) seems to have something of his flair and eye.  There is a marvelous scene where you see the younger sister wrestling with someone on the other end of the blanket who you are led to believe is her older sibling...until she comes around a corner and  removes her glasses with great deliberateness before entering the bedroom with her head down.  As she shuts the door behind her, we see the younger girl fly across the ceiling dragged by the still half concealed blanket.  Magical.
     That being said, Mama is no masterpiece, although it has its moments.  It does have a fairly original concept and some genuine scares.  The girls are pretty creepy in their feral condition and things don't work out exactly as you would expect.  In fact, the film ends in a way that runs very contrary to the usual formula for scary movies that feature children prominently.
     The real problem with the film is the uneven quality of acting to be found.  One the one end, you have Jessica Chastain.  Anyone who reads TheMovieFrog with any regularity knows how I feel about the young actress already and she is as magnetic and flawless as always.  The role certainly isn't the most deeply nuanced she has ever been given by any stretch, but she elevates the material in exactly the way I have come to expect.  Meghan Charpentier (who plays the older sister, Victoria) is best known for playing younger versions of Amanda Seyfried, but I think she may have a bright career ahead of her.  There were some really nice, quiet little touches to her performance.  On the other end of the spectrum, you have Nikolaj Coster (who plays the uncle) giving line readings that were cardboard enough to qualify for immediate recycling.  The younger sister was played by Isabelle Nelisse whose performance quality varied.  She was marvelous at playing the feral young beast.  As she grew progressively civilized her line delivery began to be easy to imagine soliciting camp groans once the picture has aged enough that the FX become laughable.
     Of course, looking at the film in 2013, it is still likely to be far better than most of the horror pictures coming out this year.  The young director's attention to detail and Chastain's genre transcending acting chops create a watchable story you are unlikely to regret giving a watch...3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

  Chasing Ice - At one point environmental photographer James Balog, who stars in this documentary, says something to the effect that if he could just get the pictures of the climate change that he has witnessed watching glaciers in the last two decades to the public, they would tell the story themselves.  This is certainly true up to a point.  The photographs are devastating and Mr. Balog's work in creating them is nothing short of heroic.  I would imagine that they must elicit an emotional response and command a lot of attention from anyone who has not been conditioned to ignore anything on the topic.
     On the other hand, documentary film maker Jeff Orlowski shows a lazy directorial hand in this debut effort, doing very little in the way of story telling aside from what the pictures can handle on their own.  What could have been an intriguing story with a little bit more of a human element to it became a little sterile and a little bit of a hollow message movie, saved only by how moving the photos are.
     The Oscar nominated Original Song "Before My Time" was the reason that the film entered my radar in the first place and was my personal favorite out of last year's nominees.  As performed by Scarlet Johannssen, it is haunting and beautiful...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

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