Mike at the Movies: The Lighthouse and more

Photo | Submitted The Lighthouse

Photo | Submitted
The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse (R)

Dominated by two amazing performances, near-deafening and extremely effective music and sound, this film hearkens back to a much earlier time in film.

First, it’s in stark black and white. Second, it is framed in a square, so the action is compressed. But unlike earlier film, this one has surpassingly effective sound—music and effects, wind, rain, fog horns and machine noises from the machinery of the lighthouse, one assumes.

There are really only two actors in the cast: Willem Dafoe as Thomas Wake, the flatulent head lightkeeper, and Robert Pattinson as Ephraim Winslow, once a lumberman in the north, now a wannabe “wicky” or lightkeeper. Ephraim has other, more pressing reasons for wanting to lay
low on a rock in the Atlantic in the 1890s, but they are a significant part of the plot and thus won’t be divulged here.

There is a female in the cast, sort of: Valeriia Karaman. Her part is as fantasy mermaid, and it is very short.

Other cameos are by visions from Ephraim’s past, mostly aided by a lot of booze—more booze as the period without staples lengthens due to storms. The gap is also caused, we suspect, because Ephraim, in a burst of rage, captures a seagull and beats it to death on the rocks. “Bad luck to kill a gull,” Thomas warns, but the details of why this is a bad idea are not spelled out until a memorable, extensive, all in one paragraph curse that Thomas places on Ephraim. It
is a solo performance worth an Oscar alone, though one suspects Dafoe will receive one on the balance of his performance throughout the film.

Pattinson gives a notable performance as well, descending gradually into madness, aided and abetted by the aforementioned booze.

The sound, as I mentioned, is remarkable. The film opens on a foggy setting with noises of no identifiable origin filling the theater and, like the plot and the lighthouse, everything emerges rather than appearing suddenly. The dark mood is aided by eternal wind, rain, fog, silence and melancholy, the kind caused by intense loneliness in a forbidding place.

Thomas is very much in control of the lighthouse and won’t even let Ephraim up into the top chamber where the actual light is located. The light becomes almost a metaphor for life itself, as are the gulls who screech and search for food wherever they can find it.

I suspect this will not be a film for everyone, though it is beautifully acted and lit. The plot unwinds in jerks and starts, like the weather. If you are into epic stories and fine-tuned and often amazing acting performances, you may find yourself seeing this one more than once. Enjoy it.

Photo | Submitted Zombieland

Photo | Submitted

Zombieland: Double Tap (R)

I loved the first entry in this franchise, and this one may be even funnier. Yes, a zombie movie that is screamingly funny. Leave your sensitivity at home—the movie is splatteringly violent, obscene at times, tender at times, but always funny.

First, don’t take the zombies seriously: The cast does, but you don’t have to. The violent ends the zombies suffer are horribly awful, but funny—they don’t even have real blood. There are also so many of them! It isn’t possible that Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock, not to mention Berkeley, can survive them. But they do, thanks to imagination, luck, last-second rescues—did I mention Nevada?—and luck.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenburg) have found themselves living in the White House, and they
find Madison (Zoey Deutch). Columbus more than welcomes her into the gang. That is the last straw for Wichita who takes Little Rock and hits the road, trying to find an independent life. Columbus has proposed to her with a huge ring (one of the First Lady’s, of course), but she is not into marriage. Columbus is, however, so he offers it to Madison after they consummate their relationship.

It’s been a few hours since they met in a mall where Madison had been living in a freezer for several months, hiding from zombies. She uses Columbus to “thaw out,” shall we say, but when Wichita returns, jealousy explodes. All this time the gang has to take time to fight off various zombie attacks, but all of them want to move on, out of the White House, as serious a mistake as that may be.

This is a madcap comedy, so the unexpected becomes the rule, almost as unbreakable as Columbus’s rules.

Emma Stone is seriously gorgeous as well as funny, as is Zoey Deutch as the intellectually short-handed Madison. Her malapropisms and general confusion, mixed with her daffy-blond character, had the audience laughing almost before she said anything. Rosario Dawson, as Nevada, enters late but has a romping good time with her part as the custodian of an Elvis Museum, and bit parts are played by Luke Wilson, Bill Murray (who has a very funny scene during the credits) and Thomas Middleditch.

As I said earlier, check your sensitivity at the door and don’t expect a normal zombie movie: This ain’t it!

But you may not see a funnier, wittier, cleverer comedy all year.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (PG)

Five years ago, I dubbed the first “Maleficent” Film of the Year. It was that good. This one is not.

For some reason, perhaps changing tastes, “Mistress of Evil” is dark, exploitative and not charming at all.

The plot is taken from fairy tales: Queen of the Moors, Aurora (Elle Fanning) falls in love with human Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson). Moor mother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) objects, as does Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). King John (Robert Lindsay), who wants peace and love, gets cursed by Maleficent, lovers suffer, Moor-people and humans go to war, and it is revealed that the Queen is the fomenter of evil, not Maleficent (who looks the evil part with protruding cheekbones and huge wings that keep getting in the way as well as a tendency to take flight and/or throw green ray-bombs around).

This film, unlike its predecessor, lacks much charm—and what charm it has is flaunted with closeups of cute Moor-people who look part human and part animal to no purpose. The previously cute trio of fairies that accompany Aurora everywhere has only bits and pieces of business to do and the director, Joachim Rønning, loves facial closeups. This is an effective technique when you have a serious drama with facial expressions meaning something, but most of his closeups do nothing at all but show off the wonderful makeup jobs on Fanning, Jolie and Pfeiffer. Prince Charles is a stick, the king is better off in a deep coma, and the chief feature of the film, incredible costuming, is spectacular but tiresome.

This is the major disappointment of the year for me as this was a sequel that was potentially as exciting and fulfilling as the original. Alas, ‘tis not so. The film is dark, gloomy and in a minor key all the way. A wasted opportunity, sorry.