Tag Archives: Essie Davis

Irregular Checkup

Babyteeth

by George Wolf

Why would a first-time feature director make sure her camera lingers a few extra beats on one of those old karaoke videos where the visuals bear no relation to the lyrics being sung?

Because it’s a sly reinforcement of the abrupt, defiant way that Shannon Murphy is telling the story of Babyteeth, and of the unconventional soul at the heart of the film.

That soul would be Milla (Eliza Scanlen), a seriously ill Australian teen who literally bumps into the 23 year-old Moses (Toby Wallace) while waiting for a tram.

She likes his hair, so he gives her a haircut. She brings him home, and suddenly Milla’s parents (Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis) have something new to worry about.

“That boy has problems!” Mom shouts.

Milla answers, “So do I!”

True enough, and Rita Kalnejais delivers a debut screenplay that embraces the tough and the tender while taking us inside a fraying family dynamic.

Mom Anna used to be a impressive pianist, but she struggles to stay off pills and keep her tears at bay. Dad Henry is a psychiatrist who handles Milla’s illness in a more pragmatic fashion while he develops a strange fixation on the pregnant neighbor (Emily Barclay).

Mendelsohn and Davis are customarily excellent, each reinforcing the different ways that grief can manifest itself, often pulling them closer and increasing their distance in equal measure. In lesser hands, the eccentricities of these characters could have dissolved into caricature or misguided comic relief, but Mendelsohn and Davis each bring a weary stoicism that keeps both parents grounded.

Scanlen, fresh off playing Beth in last year’s glorious revision of Little Women, is completely transfixing as a girl impatient to experience life. The more Milla is reminded of her sickness, the more she rebels, and Scanlen finds a mix of courage and fear that never feels false.

The whiff of death in coming-of-age dramas has often been reduced to manipulative claptrap, but Murphy takes a bulldozer to that notion with an ambitious narrative that does not allow you to get comfortable.

She introduces themes using chapter titles (some generic, some genuinely touching), transitions very abruptly and leaves some matters unexplained. Murphy’s approach is uniquely assured, requiring our attention but rewarding our emotional investment, as the few mawkish leanings are swept away by the film’s wickedly perverse sense of humor.

After years of directing shorts and TV episodes, Murphy lands on the big screen as a vibrant new voice. Like Milla, she is setting her own pace in the search for the beauty in life, and Babyteeth finds that beauty in unexpected places.

Kelly Green

True History of the Kelly Gang

by George Wolf

Planting its flag unapologetically at the corner of accuracy and myth, The True History of the Kelly Gang reintroduces a legendary 1870s folk hero through consistently bold and compelling strokes.

His death imminent, Australian outlaw Ned Kelly (1917‘s George MacKay in another impressive turn) is writing a letter to the daughter he will most likely never see. With a promise to “burn if I speak false,” Kelly wants his child to separate fact from fiction in the family history.

It’s an audacious, somewhat cheeky opening from director Justin Kurzel, considering that the film itself is based on a historical novel. Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant – the duo behind the true crime shocker The Snowtown Murders nine years ago – go bigger this time, trading spare intimacy for a tableau of grand visual and narrative ideas.

After a heroic act in childhood, Ned gets the chance at a proper education. That offer is spurned by his angry and defiant mother (Essie Davis, terrific), who instead passes Ned off to notorious Aussie bushranger Harry Power (Russel Crowe in a sterling cameo) for an intro into the outlaw life.

With a direct nod to the moment when “the myth is more profitable than the man,” Kurzel spins an irresistible yarn that manages to balance the worship of its hero with some condemnation for his sins. And as the road to Kelly’s guns-blazing capture unfurls, the film incorporates elements of both a tense crime thriller and a Nightingale-esqe reminder of savage colonialism.

Does the legend of Ned Kelly owe more to history or myth? Hero or murderer? True History…. aims higher than one word answers, with storytelling that often soars before landing.

Halloween Countdown, Day 9: The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks, or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Likewise, Wiseman delivers as a tender, confused, dear little boy you sometimes just want to throttle. Their naturalistic performances genuinely showcase the baggage that can exist between a parent and a child.

Radek Ladczuk’s vivid cinematography gives scenes a properly macabre sense, the exaggerated colors, sizes, angles, and shadows evoking the living terror of a child’s imagination.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

Eerily familiar yet peculiar and unique, The Babadook immediately ranks among the freshest and more memorable films the genre has to offer. It also marks a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!





Day 1: The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks, or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Likewise, Wiseman delivers as a tender, confused, dear little boy you sometimes just want to throttle. Their naturalistic performances genuinely showcase the baggage that can exist between a parent and a child.

Radek Ladczuk’s vivid cinematography gives scenes a properly macabre sense, the exaggerated colors, sizes, angles, and shadows evoking the living terror of a child’s imagination.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

Eerily familiar yet peculiar and unique, The Babadook immediately ranks among the freshest and more memorable films the genre has to offer. It also marks a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!





Spooky Stories For Your Queue

The best horror film (indeed, one of the very best films, period) of 2014 is available today for home entertainment and you must see The Babadook. Writer/director/Australian Jennifer Kent, with an assist from cinematographer Radek Ladczuk and magnificent performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman – has crafted an unsettling and spooky haunted house style tale.

The horror here is fueled by compassion generated by the naturalistic performances. Kent has captured something with primal urgency, something simultaneously heartbreaking and terrifying. The film’s subtext sits like a raw nerve just below the scary happenings afoot, making this as the freshest and most relevant horror film of 2014.

Pair it with another remarkable tale of either a crazy mother or a supernatural presence, J. A. Bayona’s 2007 ghost story The Orphanage.

Belen Rueda shines as a mother whose son disappears shortly after making imaginary friends at the orphanage the family owns. Bayona creates a haunted atmosphere and Rueda’s utter commitment to the character keeps the film breathless. It is a spooky nightmare that takes its material seriously and delivers.





2015 Oscar Nominations and Snubs

The Academy takes some punches every January as the rest of us scratch our heads over the films and performances they deem most deserving of recognition, and even more questionable, those they believe are not. 2015 is no different. The Oscar nominations reveal much deserved love for Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but where is Selma?

Yes, Ava DuVernay’s visceral and all too relevant film on Martin Luther King’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery earned – and we mean earned – a best picture nomination, but where was its original screenplay? It should be sitting where Foxcatcher sits.

Equally wrong-headed is the exclusion of the faultless DuVernay among the ranks of directors. Though The Imitation Game was a wonderful film and Morten Tyldum offered superb helmsmanship, that should have been DuVernay’s slot.

Best Actor is usually a loaded category, and 2015 is certainly no exception. Still, Selma’s David Oyelowo and Nightcrawler’s Jake Gyllenhaal deserved spots instead of Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell and perhaps even Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game.

Again, both performances were great and both films were great, but Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal really needed to be noticed, and quite honestly, Oyelowo may have deserved the win.

Perhaps the most baffling exclusion is The LEGO Movie from the best animated film category. How is this even possible? It’s a better animated film than absolutely anything else on the list. We’re thrilled at the inclusion of both The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea and wouldn’t remove those, but Big Hero 6 was one of the blandest and most derivative animated efforts in years and has no business in the same area code as an Oscar nomination.

Amy Adams and Jennifer Aniston could be miffed at being left off the best actress list, but to be honest, it wasn’t an especially strong year for that category. Either could be swapped in or out for almost anyone else on the list, with the exception of Julianne Moore. While Still Alice is not the strongest performance of her career, and it not actually an exceptional film outside of her work, she’ll finally win an Oscar this year, so thank God for that. Quite honestly, We’d have given one of the nominations to Essie Davis for her superior work in The Babadook, but that’s just dreaming on our part.

And while we’re in fantasyland, We’d have given Tilda Swinton a nom in the best supporting actress category for her turn in Snowpiercer. It may be simply tradition to offer Meryl Streep a seat at the table every year, and she certainly was fun to watch as the witch in Into the Woods, but Swinton was more fun and more deserving.

The major nominations are below.

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
JK Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightly, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

DIRECTOR
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher





One Bad Book

The Babadook

by  Hope Madden

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Likewise, Wiseman delivers as a tender, confused, dear little boy you sometimes just want to throttle. Their naturalistic performances genuinely showcase the baggage that can exist between a parent and a child.

Radek Ladczuk’s vivid cinematography gives scenes a properly macabre sense, the exaggerated colors, sizes, angles and shadows evoking the living terror of a child’s imagination.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

Eerily familiar yet peculiar and unique, The Babadook immediately ranks among the freshest and more memorable films the genre has to offer. It also marks a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

Verdict-4-0-Stars