Apocalypse when? Films reviewed: The Aftermath, Us

Posted in 1940s, doppelgänger, Drama, Germany, Horror, Romance, Supernatural, Thriller, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on March 22, 2019

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

When civilization faces apocalypse, authority collapses and animal insticts take over. This week I’m looking at two movies set around apocalypses. There’s a post-apocalyptic romantic drama set in the rubble of postwar Hamburg; and a pre-apocalyptic horror set in the boardwalk of Santa Cruz, California.

The Aftermath

Dir: James Kent (Based on the novel by Rhidian Brook)

It’s 1945 in occupied Hamburg, just a few months after the end of WWII. Allied bombing has reduced the city to rubble with some of the remaining houses requisitioned by military officers. Rachael (Keira Knightly), a beautiful young Englishwoman arrives by train to be reunited with her husband, Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke). They didn’t see each other much during the war, but now that it’s over maybe they can find some quiet time to talk things. No such luck.

The Colonel is busy hunting Nazi holdouts around the city – feral teenagers with the number 88 carved into their skin – for Heil Hitler – run rampant targeting occupying troups. And far from the furnished flat she expected, they are placed in an enormous mansion untouched by bombing and furnished Bauhaus style. Lewis, in an act of kindness, allows the homeowner – a handsome architect and his daughter – to stay. There’s lots of room for both families, he says. But little privacy.

The two broken families settle into an uneasy truce. Rachael hates Germans for killing their only son in the blitz, and directs her anger at Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) who built the house. He lives in the attic now with his daughter. His wife was killed by allied bombing. And little Freda (Flora Thiemann) who blames Rachael for her mother’s death, spends her time with the trümmerkinder, the kids who hide in bombed out buildings in the city centre. When she runs into the Morgans in the hallways she just hisses at them like a cat.

Tension rises to a boiling point, until one day, when Lewis away a shouting match between Stefan and Rachael… turns ino a passionate kiss! Will this turn into something bigger? Can her marriage survive? Is Stefan a Nazi? Will Freda accept Rachael into her life? And what does Rachael really want?

The Aftermath is a romance that also deals with the mourning and loss that war brings. It’s beautifully done, with an attractive cast luxuriating in their magnificent clothing, hairstyles, jewelry and interior décor. The movie looks gorgeous but the story is less satisfying. There are some scenes set in the post war ruin – actually the parts with feral nazi children are the most interesting – but mostly it’s just about relationships. It reminds me a lot of Suite Francaise, also based on a novel, set a few years earlier, with a German officer occupying French home, and similar results. Did I like it? The Aftermath starts very slowly, as if it doesn’t know where it’s going. But it picks up about halfway through and comes to an unexpected finish. Not a perfect movie, but one with lots of eye candy.

Us

Wri/Dir: Jordan Peele

The Wilsons are a very ordinary California family heading off to their summer home in sunny Santa Cruz. Dad (Winston Duke) plans to tinker with his leaky motorboat. The kids are off in their own worlds. Little Jason (Evan Alex) is into magic tricks and a scary Halloween mask he wears all day. 12-year-old Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) prefers to tune out and spend time with earbuds and instagram. They plan to spend time on the beach with their old friends, the alcoholic Kitty and Josh (Elizabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker) and their twin teenaged daughters.

Only Mom (Lupita Nyong’o) is preoccupied. She feels weird to be back in her childhood summer home, and is dead-set against spending any time on the beach or at the boardwalk. It just doesn’t feel right. She is still haunted by a strange experience she had as a child on her ninth birthday. She wandered into a hall of mirrors met a girl who looked exactly like her but who wasn’t her. She never saw her again, and no one believes her story, but she’s still afraid she’ll run into that mirror girl again. But she relents and spends an uneventful day at the beach.

But that night, things start to change. A family dressed in identical red jumpsuits appears in their driveway, each carrying a pair of sharp scissors. And when they enter their house, Jason notices “they’re us!” Who are these people? Criminals? Zombies? Ghosts? They look exactly like the Wilsons and have similar personalities, but in a creepy distorted way. They don’t speak, they just make animal noises… except for Mom’s doppelganger, who explains it all. We are your shadows, she says, tethered to your lives, but we live underground. We are like marionettes, moving against our will, we live identical lives but with none of the pleasure. So we’re here to reclaim it.

But not if they can help it! It’s up to the family to fight back against these strange people who want to replace them. But can they beat creatures who seem to know what they’re thinking and are faster, stronger and meaner than they are?

Us is a scary and very strange horror movie. Like his previous movie Get Out, this one has mind-bending twists, secret conspiracies laced with lots of humour. It’s almost more strange and funny than it is scary. And unlike Get Out, it has no overarching political theme – no racial dimensions, no class conflicts, no left/right divide. It even avoids gun-control issues, with every killing in the movie using household weapons – scissors, golf clubs, fire irons – rather than semi-automatic firearms. No politics at all.

The one surprising theme is religion: the music is full of scary liturgical chants, the doppelgänger people live in a hellish underground, they dress in red robes, they are surrounded by flames and are possibly part of a nationwide apocalypse ordained by God to punish Americans for worshipping false idols.

Is this a good movie? Oh yes it is! Is it a horror movie? Sort of, but more creepy than terrifying. And it leaves you thinking about it long after it’s over. Lupita Nyong’o and the two kids are especially good, as their selves but especially as their shadows. If you like horror, dark humour and the occult, this is the movie to see. It’s great.

Us and The Aftermath both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Northwest. Movies reviewed: Amy, Rear Window, Testament of Youth PLUS NXNE

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Movies, Mystery, Thriller, UK, War, Women, WWI by CulturalMining.com on June 19, 2015

North. Movies reviewed- Amy, Rear Window, Testament to Youth

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s summertime here in the great white north, so I thought I’d talk about Northern films playing in Toronto. This week, there’s a Memoir of WWI set in North Western Europe, a classic voyeuristic suspense-thriller by the director of North By Northwest; and a documentary playing at NXNE.

4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1-1Amy
Dir: Asif Kapadia 

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was born in North London and dead by the age of 27. A new documentary fills in the missing years with grainy camera footage, voicemail messages, TV appearances, studio sessions and private snapshots. It follows her precipitously quick rise to stardom and all that goes with it. And London’s voracious, cannibalistic journo-papparazi who dog her every step. This is an excellent documentary of an artist killed by fame.

(Capsule review.)

AnW2N3_RW_Stewart_Kelly_2_o3_8642515_1433452249Rear Window
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

It’s 1954. LB “Jeff” Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a news photographer for Life Magazine. He lives out of a suitcase in exotic locales in search of the ultimate cover story. But now, with a broken leg, he’s holed up in his inaccessible apartment that’s not friendly to wheelchairs. He’s visited in the daytime by Stella (Thelma Ritter) a plain talking nurse, and in the evening by his high-society girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly). Between visits he stares longingly out his back window at the array of apartments visible just across a courtyard. There’s a newlywed couple, a frustrated musician, a miss lonelyhearts looking for love, a busty single woman, and a travelling salesman with his bed-ridden wife. He’s the ultimate voyeur, witnessing the drama of countless lives displayed just out of his reach. But when he thinks he sees a crime, he feels impotent that there’s nothing he can do to help. And after his old pal the cop refuses to get involved in local squabbles, he enlists Stella and Lisa to launch potentially dangerous investigations that he watches through his rear window. Is it real, or just a man’s overactive imagination.

Rear Window is a fantastic classic Hitchcock movie that captures the frenetic overpopulated American city life in the 50s. It’s filmed with an unusual point of view. We see everything the way Jeff does, through his window looking at the rooms across the street. With so much of our time now spent staring at windows (meaning screens) Rear Window predates our voyeuristic digital lives by half a century.

IMG_0585.CR2Testament of Youth
Dir: James Kent

It’s 100 years ago in rural England. Teenaged Vera (Alicia Vikander) lives with her brother Edward (Taron EDGErton) and her mum and dad who made a small fortune in paper mills.

She’s smart, educated, creative and multilingual. She writes poetry. Vera is a twentieth century woman with a mind of her own, ready to explore the world. But the world isn’t ready for her – they treat women as silly and frivolous who shouldn’t waste their time studying at university. Just find a husband, her parents tell her, that’s what women are there for.

And she’s not at a loss for suitors. Young Victor (Colin Morgan) likes her a lot, but she thinks of him as just

IMG_2115.CR2a sweet boy. She thinks Roland (Kit Harrington) is a persistent pest (though they do fall in love eventually) Her musically inclined brother Edward and his best friend complete the quartet of young men in her life, and she spends time with all of them keeping up her end of discussions.

Vera is stubborn and driven woman and after a great struggle she lands a place at Oxford, a huge accomplishment at the time when women couldn’t even vote. But no sooner does she start to study when WWI breaks out and all four of the young men in her life rush to join the army for King and country. She wants to do her part too and signs up as a nurse, one of the few professions open to women. But war is not quick and it’s not easy. She ends up at makeshift medical camps in France where she sees death, disease and despair everywhere, on both sides. Who will survive this war, who will die and what will they learn from it all?

IMG_2464.CR2There’s some great acting in this movie, including Vikander – she played a sexy robot in Ex Machina, and the two parts couldn’t be more different. But Testament of Youth is based on the classic memoir which gives a rare female Point of View of WWI. So it doesn’t have a movie’s traditional compact story line. It’s plodding and episodic. It felt like a miniseries – a good one maybe with notable actors and high production values – but not one that’s very exciting or gripping or heartbreaking. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t blow me away, either.

Testament of Youth opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Hitchcock’s Rear Window is screening in July as part of the series Technicolor Dreams. Go to tiff.net for the schedule. And Amy, along with films like Diamond Tongues and short films from Austin texas curated by Jonathan Demme, are all playing at NXNE films now through Sunday night: go to nxne.com for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

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