This Week in Geek (22-28/02/16)

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: The Witch is a horror film, sure, but I might also call it a historical drama that takes the superstitions of its era as real (it's based on actual "accounts" from 17th-Century New England). On a slow burn, the film's dialog takes getting used to, a sort of accented Elizabethan that sounds authentic, but isn't our normal vernacular. As the "folk tale" proceeds, a Calvinist family divorces itself from the village community to tame the wilderness on their farm, and fall afoul of the devil's curse. Is there a witch in the woods, or is one of them the culprit? Perhaps it's both, and the family members are quick to turn on one another when strange happenings start to occur. This is a film that uses imagery and sound to make its audience uneasy; the gore is minimal. Though it's a generally quiet film, with a gray color palette, it nevertheless kept things tense. So a recommendation from me, but perhaps not if you're in the mood for action or jump scares.

DVDs: I've talked up Bruce McDonald's Pontypool before, having seen in in late 2014, but I'd enjoyed the off-beat, little-means zombie-ish thriller set in a radio station so much, I bought the DVD. So this is my second go - in which I nevertheless found new things to make me smile, like the innate repetitiveness of radio work and how it ties into the linguistic virus presented in the film - and I want to talk about the extras. There's a commentary track shared by the director and author, but I'm not sure what to make of it given that it spends a good chunk of its time discussing the plot of Pontypools 2 and 3, films planned but never made, and that McDonald absolutely refuses to explain the post-credits teaser. Whatever. The big reason to get Pontypool in this format is that it includes the radio play version of the story (accompanied by on-set pictures), and guess what, it has a completely different ending! Well worth the hour's running time, and I'm not sure I have a preference for the possible endings yet. I might lean on the radio play's side though!

As long Ghibli Studios exists, we'll never run out of anime films where a pre-adult crosses paths with the supernatural, and that seems to be true even with Miyazaki now retired. When Marnie Was There is this year's Oscar contender, exactly in this vein, with Anna, an asthmatic girl goes to live with relatives in the countryside for the summer and stumbles on a ghost girl who helps her overcome her isolation, awkwardness and self-loathing. The standard of animation is quite strong, of course, and the story is replete with levels of meaning. Though that's not where the plot actually goes, there's definitely a Sapphic undertone to the girls' relationship that may inform the character of Anna for those who want to explore that aspect of it. Ghost, imagination, memory? The film keeps a certain ambiguity that need not be resolved. All levels co-exist. And while I'm always a little nonplussed about anime - very rarely am I enthusiastic about it, though I respect it - and was quietly interested and no more through most of the running time, it got me at the end with a well-judged and subtle reaction from one of the ancillary characters. Perhaps that's where the film's true strength resides: In its astute portrayal of human emotion.

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