Tag Archives: Demián Bichir

Forest for the Trees


by George Wolf

After directing one short film and ten episodes of her House of Cards TV series, Robin Wright makes an assured feature debut with Land, mining one shattered life for graceful insight into healing.

Wright also delivers a touching and understated performance as Edee, a woman who clings to grief as her closest connection to the husband and child she has lost, and who can no longer bear any expectations that she will “get better.”

Moving alone to a remote cabin in the Wyoming wilderness, Edee ignores advice to at least keep a vehicle at her disposal and settles in, wanting nothing else to do with anything or anyone.

No surprise, but Wyoming winters are harsh for the inexperienced. Eventually, it is only the aid of a passing hunter named Miguel (Demián Bichir, also terrific) that saves Edee’s life.

Miguel is carrying emotional scars as well, and the two strike a deal. He will teach her the survival skills she needs, and when the lessons are done, she will never see him again.

The screenplay from Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam may not blaze any thematic trails, but it does resist following the roads most expected. Of course Edee begins to feel a human connection again, but this point isn’t exploited for a cheap and easy narrative out.

The performances from Wright and Bichir make you care about pain even when you haven’t glimpsed it, giving director Wright a solid emotional base to lean on while deftly unveiling the different lives Edee and Miguel used to lead.

Edee’s memories of her family are brought to the screen with a tenderness from Wright that is both touching and well-played. Woven through the beautifully framed and intimidating Wyoming landscapes are wonderful sketches of visual storytelling.

Yes, we’ve heard Land‘s lessons before, but Wright’s feature debut behind the camera impresses through her fine instincts for subtle over showy, paring those lessons down to an essence as timeless as the majestic skyline.

Contact Tracing

The Midnight Sky

by George Wolf

Between sci-fi and horror, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of which genre relies more heavily on recycled ideas. Since I see more horror than anything else, I’m inclined to lean in that direction, but The Midnight Sky adds one to the science fiction tally, building its very respectable tale on some very recognizable building blocks.

Director George Clooney also turns in a gritty and understated performance as Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (nice!), a revered scientist in the year 2049. Three weeks after a cataclysmic event on Earth forces survivors underground, Augustine chooses to remain at his Arctic Circle observatory. His hope is to make contact with Aether K-23, and warn the five crew members finishing a two year mission that there is no home worth returning to.

Augustine’s simple goal gets complicated by his discovery of Iris (Caoilinn Springall), an eight year-old girl missed during the outpost’s evacuation, and by the realization that he’ll have to take her along on a treacherous journey to the only satellite antenna capable of making contact with Aether.

Clooney and writer Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, Overlord) adapt Lily Brooks-Dalton’s source novel through three rotating narratives that offer mixed results.

On board with the Aether crew, we learn Sully (Felicity Jones) and Ade (David Oyelowo) are close, Sanchez (Demián Bichir) is the quietly wise vet, Maya (Tiffany Boone) the baby-faced youngster and Mitchell is the stoic manly man we’re not surprised is played by Kyle Chandler.

There are some effectively human moments with the crew, but too much of this thread feels strangely overwritten by Smith, a tendency that only becomes more weighty during the flashbacks to a younger Augustine (Ethan Peck).

Though we learn what drives the Dr.’s frigid quest for redemption, the backstory lessons are more spoon-fed than well-earned, standing in sharp contrast to the gentler hand played between Augustine and Iris.

Remember, Clooney has a deserved Oscar nom for directing, and his latest course is steady as she goes. Many of the deep space segments, buoyed by another wonderful score from Alexandre Desplat, will make you long for a return to big screens, while two tension filled set pieces – one with a snowmobile and another sporting zero gravity blood loss – find Clooney flexing some thrill muscles to fine effect.

There’s nothing really wrong with the themes and devices here, that’s why they’re used so often. The failures of humankind and the promise of the next generation are ideas that sit comfortably in the wonders explored by science fiction. But though our current global crisis gives The Midnight Sky’s iteration some added urgency, it can’t shake the feeling we’ve boldly gone here pretty often.

The Midnight Sky premieres on Netflix December 23.

Hey, Soul Sister

The Nun

by Hope Madden

When we were four, my sister and I wandered off at the Toledo zoo. Nuns found us and reunited us—via lost and found? I don’t remember—with the larger Madden clan. And that’s the thing about nuns: they are either entirely wonderful or entirely terrifying. There is no middle ground.

Corin Hardy knows that. With that knowledge, The Hallows director crafts his little part of The Conjuring universe with a history lesson on that scary sister, The Nun.

His film, written by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle, It) from a story by James Wan, takes us back to the 1950s when the Vatican called upon a priest with a specific set of skills. Fr. Burke (Demián Bichir) investigates the suicide of a cloistered nun in remote Romania, bringing along a novitiate nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga – little sister to Conjuring star Vera).

You think nuns are creepy? Well, they fit right in at crumbling old Romanian abbeys. Hardy and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre make glorious use of the location, and then create richly shadowed castle interiors suitable for Dracula himself.

Hardy throws any number of really eerie visuals onscreen as Farmiga’s novitiate (a nun who hasn’t yet taken her final vows) descends into the demonic labyrinth, while Father Burke fights demons (personal and literal) just outside the gate.

Velvety shadows and jump scares, medieval witchery and the now-quaint idea that the Catholic Church can save us—Hardy balances all these items with nostalgia, humor and a fun dose of Conjuring universe odes.

Farmiga brings enough salt-of-the-earthiness with her innocence to make Sr. Irene relatable. Bichir seems less suited to the role of holy man, but as an investigator who smells something rotten, he works out well.

The real treat is Jonas Bloquet as Frenchie, the French-Canadian transport living in Romania who can carry a torch into catacombs with the best of them. He’s funny, his scenes keeping the film from veering into committing the sin of taking itself too seriously and losing its audience.

Where the film comes up short is in imagination. Mainly, it bears far too strong a resemblance to another Irishman’s Catholic horror, Devil’s Doorway, which follows two priests investigating strange phenomenon at a convent only to find something sinister in the tunnels beneath.

Though Devil’s Doorway lacked the visual flair, budget and humor of The Nun, it sidestepped the nostalgia that casts the Catholic Church in such unvarnished light, so it felt a bit more relevant and less disposable.

Still, with a slight, sometimes silly storyline and an awful lot of atmosphere, Hardy manages an entertaining if forgettable 90 minutes.