“Bloodshot” and “The Rhythm Section” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.
Looking up director Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins of “Psycho” fame, for those keeping score of such things) on IMDB, I discovered that he started his directing career in 2015. This is because most of his credits are as an actor under the name Oz Perkins. I also discovered that—to my surprise—I had already seen his previous two movies, 2015’s “Blackcoat’s Daughter” and 2016’s “I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House.” I am now three for three with “Gretel and Hansel.”
While I don’t recall his previous two movies vividly, I do remember watching them and some bits and pieces have stuck with me. What I recall the most about them, above and beyond anything story related, is the sense of tension and foreboding. There is an uneasy feeling he brings—appropriately—to his horror/suspense thrillers. This quality is shared by “Gretel and Hansel” and ratcheted up a notch. After all, how can a movie involving abandoned children, a spooky forest, and a creepy witch not push feelings of dread to the nth degree?
The lighting and the framing of his shots are a big part of this aesthetic. The woods are not a safe place to be, especially at night. As envisioned by Perkins and shot by cinematographer Galo Olivares, all of the trees look like they’re ready to come alive and grab someone. Even indoor shelters have a menacing side, as our forlorn protagonists Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and her younger brother Hansel (Samuel J. Leakey) quickly discover. The two are abandoned after their father passes away and their mother (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), overwhelmed and having a nervous breakdown, sends them off to fend for themselves.
It’s after this set up and a bit of wandering in the woods that we get to the heart of the movie: Gretel and Hansel’s stay at the home of a Witch (Alice Krige). Those familiar with the Grimm Brothers fairy tale of “Hansel and Gretel” may think they know what happens next, but this is where the movie gets interesting. Writer Rob Hayes took some liberties with the material. What happens in the house is more nuanced than in the story most of us are familiar with, yet the basic theme is retained. Not just retained, but expanded upon. “Gretel and Hansel” is a coming of age/awakening into womanhood movie just as much as it is a tale of woods and witches. There is a fascinating interplay between Gretel and the Witch that is a power struggle in both literal and figurative terms.
Even with all of the broody doom and gloom that drips from every shot, “Gretel and Hansel” manages to be an amazing looking movie. For those in warmer climates who have never experienced Autumn in the north—particularly in New England—with the cool, crisp air and amazing orange, yellow, and red coloring of the leaves, this movie manages to capture it very well. I have to go back to Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” from 1999 to name a movie that so perfectly makes me feel like it’s October no matter what month I’m watching it in. Added to this are the simple yet captivating sets from Production Designer Jeremy Reed as well as Robin Coudert’s spare and dissonant score, and “Gretel and Hansel” puts me in the mood for black cats, cauldrons, jack o’ lanterns, and a stroll through the Autumn trees. Just don’t go alone—or at night. Rent it.
If 2020 has action star equivalents to Stallone and Schwarzenegger–the beefy, muscle bound action stars of my youth in the ‘80s and ‘90s—I’d say that today we’re still doing pretty well with the testosterone-pumped movies of Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel. Of the two, Diesel is the one who has managed to carve out more iconic characters. He is after all xXx, Riddick, and last but not least, Dominic Toretto. We can even make an argument for his work as the voice of Groot. I am sure he would have continued being the Last Witch Hunter, from a movie I liked, if that had turned into a franchise. Now he’s “Bloodshot.”
Okay, so his name isn’t Bloodshot—though in a movie like this it wouldn’t have shocked me. Diesel plays Ray Garrison, a dead soldier whose body was donated by the U.S. government to be experimented on by biotech billionaire Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce). Harting specializes in giving wounded warriors a second chance, and has a cadre of them at his disposal including Tibbs (Alex Hernandez), who has enhanced sight, Dalton (Sam Heughan), who has cybernetic legs, and KT (Eiza González), who has the world’s most high-tech respirator.
Of course not all is as well and good as it seems. Anyone familiar with the tropes of these stories can spot that something is amiss once Garrison’s revenge plot is done an hour into this one hour and forty-nine-minute movie. “Bloodshot” has just the right amount of twist and turns in its story to keep us on our toes, wondering what will happen next. Sure, the movie heads in the direction we expect it to go, but there are some clever surprises on the way there, and one of my guiding principles on movie viewing is that it is about the journey and not the destination.
A movie like “Bloodshot” also has to look good. “Good,” however, is too weak of a word to describe this movie. It’s cool. Everything visual about this movie—the sets, the lighting, the gadgets, the technology—all looks cool, like this is a fun little proverbial sandbox to play in. The action scenes also have creative staging and a sleek style to them that make them insanely entertaining. If you’re going to make a movie like this, might as well do it right. Director David S.F. Wilson does it right. “Bloodshot” has coolness to spare. Rent it.
The Rhythm Section
I am not sure if there is such a style as Women’s Pro Golf Chic, but if there is, I am sure that Blake Lively exemplifies it in “The Rhythm Section.” The short, dark hair. The baggy, oversize pants. The two sizes too big, plain-looking shirts buttoned all the way up. All that’s missing is a golf club. Though in “The Rhythm Section,” about a woman’s single-minded mission to get revenge on the terrorists who caused a plane crash that killed her family, she’d probably use it to clobber someone.
I have to give Lively credit for her lack of vanity. She is a very attractive woman but here she strips away all of it, complete with puffy bags under the eyes and an unfeminine walk. I believe that this is all supposed to visually connote the seriousness with which she took her assassination training from a man known simply as B (Jude Law). By the time he is done imparting his wisdom and deadly combat skills to her, she leaves all femininity and pretense behind so she can focus exclusively on the task at hand.
The earlier parts of “The Rhythm Section” where we get flashbacks to three years prior and see what her life was like then, which is juxtaposed with where she winds up after the crash, are a promising start. She then manages to track down B, and her motivations are clear for doing so. This is where the movie starts to unravel. The training with B lasts for months. Normally these types of movies show some kind of progress, perhaps even a montage of the improvement the hero is making, but there is none of that here and the movie suffers for it. All we see and hear from B is that she can’t handle his training and isn’t ready, and there is little shown to us to prove him wrong.
Once she does get out into the field and start her vengeful killing spree, luck plays a giant role in her success. While I like the fact that “The Rhythm Section” gives us an interesting heroine who has to overcome physical, emotional, and mental barriers to achieve her goals, the movie cops out on her actually achieving them because of skill or capability. Everyone she encounters can plainly see that she is not the cold-blooded killer that she pretends to be. This is a problem not just for her, but for the movie too. Stream it.
“Greed,” satire about the world of the super-rich, starring Steve Coogan, Isla Fisher, and Asa Butterfield; and “The Lodge,” about a soon-to-be-stepmom is snowed in with her fiance’s two children at a remote holiday village, starring Richard Armitage, Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, and Alicia Silverstone.