Tag Archives: Juliette Lewis

Backdoor Progression


by Hope Madden

“You don’t want to suck me.”

There are moments in Bruce McDonald’s head trip Dreamland that are just bizarre fun, like that self-aware line delivered by Henry Rollins. A lowlife gangster kingpin, his statement is as much a moment of self-defense as it is a warning.

Rollins’s Hercules is one of many unseemly characters orbiting each other in this surreal, jazzy noir. Veteran character actor and welcome sight Stephen McHattie (Pontypool) plays dual roles: jazzman junkie and conflicted hitman.

One needs to exact retribution on the other, you see, but maybe redemption of sorts could be arranged for both of them?

From one flesh-peddling nightclub to the highfalutin debauchery of a palace, McDonald’s fever dream offers consistently weird moments, each loosely connected to the next, all meandering toward a wild climax. Dreamland is a nutty drug trip of an underbelly film.

McHattie’s fun, especially as the anesthetized trumpet player. The other McHattie is having a tough time learning that you can’t rely on a junkie.

Both Rollins and Juliette Lewis are clearly enjoying themselves—Lewis, in particular, relishing every moment of over-the-top decadence and weirdness. Belgian character actress Stéphane Bissot impresses most as the sole voice of reason in the entire film. She’s deadpan hilarious.

Not that Dreamland is a comedy. Not that it isn’t, either. It’s a tough film to characterize.

McDonald hit his artistic high water mark in 2008 with the inspired lunacy of Pontypool. For Dreamland he teams again with writer Tony Burgess, and together they dive back into themes of sanity, reality and jazz. But Dreamland lacks the fidelity of vision and the internal logic that made Pontypool simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.

Dreamland occasionally feels like a cheat. Worse still, it too often feels predictable when its every breath is meant to be just the opposite.

Still, there’s more than enough carnage and madness packed into this 90 minutes to keep you gawking.

Oh, Mama


by Hope Madden

Oh my God, you guys. Did you know Tate Taylor directed the new Octavia Spencer horror flick, Ma?

You know, Tate Taylor. Girl on a Train. Get On Up. The effing Help – that Tate Taylor.

No wonder Octavia Spencer is in it, and God bless her for it because she commits to a role that, in other hands, could have been utterly, laughably predictable.

In fact, were it not for a breathtakingly better-than-this-material cast, Ma would have devolved quickly into every other “get back at the popular kids – oh, wait, maybe let’s vilify and re-victimize the unpopular instead” horror.

Spencer’s Sue Ann, or Ma, as the kids call her, is just an easy mark for teens wanting alcohol. Yes, she’ll buy it as long as you drink it at her house where she knows you’re safe.

Does she have nefarious motives?

She does.

For her part, the Oscar-winner (for Taylor’s The Help) convinces, drawing both sympathy and fear. She’s joined in small roles by another Oscar winner (an almost jarringly funny Allison Janney) and an Oscar nominee (Juliette Lewis) as well as Luke Evans and a set of talented young actors led by Booksmart’s Diana Silvers.

How on earth did this by-the-numbers outsider/don’t trust the lonely older lady horror flick draw this cast?!

I do not know, because Ma has nothing really new to say, so it relies in its entirety on this cast to entertain. But there are two reasons that this story and this particular cast are actually Ma’s problems.

One is something that still surprises me about horror. On the whole, horror appeals to outcasts. And yet, from Carrie White to the coven in The Craft to Sue Ann in Ma, horror films reestablish the status quo by putting outcasts in their place. Sure, they get that grand few moments of terrorizing the beautiful, popular kids, but things end badly in horror movies for the outcast.

Here’s what troubles me even more about Tate Taylor, and to a degree, Octavia Spencer films. (Note that Spencer executive produced the racially problematic and utterly mediocre Green Book.)

Ma is racially tone deaf. I have no idea why this wealthy Southern white man insists on telling stories exclusively about African Americans, but he truly should not. A story that vilifies the lonely middle aged woman, seeing her as a broken psychotic based on her generally pathetic nature, is misogynistic. When this villain is also the only African American woman in the film, that problem is heightened dramatically.

Don’t get me wrong—I am a fanatical horror fan, and when an Oscar -winner (and multiple nominee) chooses to star, let alone star as the villain (the most important character) in a horror film, I am all in.

But this was the wrong movie.