Friday, August 31, 2018

Low key ‘The Little Stranger’ is atmospheric, scary little tale

By Steve Crum
The Little Stranger is a little gothic horror movie. Despite its mediocre budgeted trappings and lack of flashy digital effects, this slow paced haunted house film has a fair share of scares. Lucinda Coxon has adapted Sarah Waters’ best selling book of the same name, with Lenny Abrahamson (Room) directing.  
Set in a British countryside during the humid summer of 1948, The Little Stranger follows central character Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) as he experiences strange goings-on after being summoned to Hundreds Hall. Faraday has a not so happy history at the 18th Century-built estate since he more or less grew up there when his mother was a housemaid. Mrs. Angela Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) is ailing, so her daughter, Caroline (Ruth Wilson), asks for Faraday’s help. The two knew each other when they were children. 
Complications arise upon Faraday’s arrival, when he crosses paths with Roddy Ayres (Will Poulter), Caroline’s brother. Roddy bears grotesque facial scars inflicted during his military service in WWII. Even more troubling is his inability to deal with PTSD symptoms, resulting in violent mood swings. 
The Ayres’ small family unit, accentuated by living in a mansion, has one youngish maid, Betty (Liv Hill), whose fortitude is being tested to the limit. Roddy’s outbursts are challenging enough, but she, along with inhabitants and visitors at Hundreds Hall, have begun to experience strange happenings. Something is awry, and a ghost might be the reason. 
Faraday decides to take on Mrs. Ayres as his patient, and spends more and more time at the estate. (His office is in a nearby village.) He and Caroline become romantically entangled, which adds a subplot element. But then there is the thing that rings all the inner house phones, the thing that answers each phone with breathing, and the thing that is marking the walls, and soon slicing human skin. 
Let me emphasize that the violence is jarring, but not as graphic as most horror movies over the last few decades. That includes a little girl being bitten in the face by a dog. It is only heard off camera, but that suffices. It is in no way as relentlessly terrifying as an Amityville Horror or a Poltergeist. The Little Stranger is more in the league of 1963’s The Haunting. There is suggested horror with bits of slap in your face violence. 
The well cast actors do very well, and Abrahmanson’s direction is solid. Nuanced is the apt description here. 
The Little Stranger is low on the creepazoid meter, but it tingled a couple of nerves along my spine. Forgiving its rather ambiguous conclusion, the film merits a viewing.  

GRADE on an A-F Scale: B-

Monday, August 13, 2018

Old showbiz is new again via movie biographies of Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Gilda Radner

By Steve Crum
As a guy who wallows in the nostalgia of vintage show business, I am having anticipatory palpitations. The condition is purely fan-based, gushy, and driven by a slate of soon-to-be-released motion pictures. In other words, FINALLY…the lives of Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and Gilda Radner will be headlining the world’s multiplexes. 
LOVE, GILDA is all about the gifted, beloved comedienne, Gilda Radner, who died of cancer at 42 young years in 1989. Directed by Lisa D’Apolito, the documentary features Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, Laraine Newman, Martin Short, Paul Shaffer and Melissa McCarthy. They will speak to Gilda’s private persona as well as comedic influences on their careers. 
Opening Sept. 21, Love, Gilda will feature clips from her Saturday Night Live days as well her celebrated concert film. Gilda’s own words, culled from her diaries, will be interspersed with previously unheard audio tapes and family home movies. 
THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION, a documentary written and directed by Peter Bogdonovich, opens Oct. 5., the day after Buster Keaton’s birthday. For my money, Buster remains the most brilliant film comedian of the silent era. No doubt the movie will mention his 1895 birth in Piqua, Kansas. Besides clips and behind-the-scenes interviews and remembrances about Keaton’s masterworks The General, Steamboat Bill, and the like, I hope there is at least mention of the yearly celebration of Keaton’s life and works held near his birthplace, in Iola. (I made the annual journey there over the last two decades.) 
Bogdonovich’s film includes recent interviews with Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Bill Hader, and others. 
STAN & OLLIE, opening Jan. 11, 2019, is a biographical dramedy based on one year (1947) in the personal and professional lives of arguably the greatest movie comedy team of all time, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. (No argument by me. The Boys ARE the greatest.) The focus is on Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy’s tour of postwar Great Britain, accompanied by their wives. Jon S. Baird directs a screenplay written by Jeff Pope (Philomena). Pope has long considered Laurel and Hardy his “heroes.” 
John C. Reilly (Chicago) is Ollie; Steve Coogan (Philomena) is Stan. There are no other box office names filling out the cast. That includes the actresses portraying the duo’s wives, Ida (Mrs. Laurel) and Lucille (Mrs. Hardy). Others depicted include names early movie fans will recognize: Hal Roach, James Finlayson, James Horne, and Joe Schenck. Music is by the prolific composer, Rolfe Kent, probably most famous for his Sideways score. 
This is one film that I, a Sons of the Desert member, can hardly wait to see. Early reports say it is Oscar worthy. Considering how previous Hollywood “biographies” slaughtered the images of Buster Keaton (The Buster Keaton Story), W. C. Fields (W.C. Fields and Me), and Abbott and Costello (Bud and Lou), Stan & Ollie could deliver big time. 
Please do not make this one “another fine mess.”