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The Haunting of Sharon Tate review : wickedly good movie

Far from a straight biopic

Drew Turney

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Director:

Daniel Farrands

Cast:

Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda, Ryan Cargill

Run time:

94 mins

Rating:

This is the second upcoming film that deals with the legacy and influence of Charles Manson and his reign of terror across LA. Anyone would think the 40th anniversary of the notorious Manson murders was coming up, or that one of Hollywood’s coolest directors had a flashy new movie releasing soon that contains that very topic…

You might feel cynical because “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” appears tailor made to cash in on Tarantino’s upcoming magnum opus about the industry and town that made him just like it destroyed Tate, but don’t dismiss it too quickly.

The entire premise is taken from an interview with the actress a year before her hideous killing in which she describes visions of psychopaths breaking into her house and butchering her and her friends, supposedly containing accurate details about the way she and the other victims were overpowered and bound.

We see snippets of the interview itself as Tate (Hilary Duff) relates her chilling nightmares, but most of the action is in the famed Beverly Hills house in the days leading up to the slayings.

The heavily-pregnant Tate has returned to Los Angeles, her director husband Roman Polanski staying behind in Europe to finish the film he’s working on. Staying in the mansion with her is friend Jay Sebring, Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski and Frykowski’s girlfriend Abigail Folger.

From what appears to be a combination of feeling that her husband has abandoned her when she needs him most, her certainty that he’s cheating on her in Europe, trouble sleeping and a creeping suspicion that Frykowski and Folger are sponging off her, Tate becomes increasingly nervous and skittish. She keeps seeing scenes from the premonition she’s described in the interview, of a man standing in her bedroom in the middle of the night and her friends being hurt and killed, wondering if she’s cracking up or if the universe is trying to tell her she and her unborn child are in danger.

In getting to where the film’s going, writer/director Daniel Farrands proves himself a very effective director of horror (he’s previously directed both The Amityville Murders and a swath of ‘Making Of’ films about classic horror flicks, so he knows the genre conventions). The Cielo Drive house is full of dark shadows and ill-lit corners that are full of foreboding, the soundtrack full of throbs of low menace.

A good example of a creepy horror fixture is the huge cassette deck in the basement studio/office. A song Manson recorded for Terry Melcher, the music producer and former tenant of the house Manson hoped would sign his apocalyptic race war-inciting album, is still on the spools, and when it comes on by itself in the middle of the night it’s so scary it feels like Tate’s just realised Fred Krueger or Jason Vorhees is somewhere inside with her.

It’s also far from a straight biopic of the event. It does depict the killings in incredibly gory and shockingly effective detail, but they play out as a nightmare Tate has just days before the Manson gang actually descend. To reveal what happens on the infamous night of August 8, 1969 would be to spoil one of the central themes of the film, but Farrands’ script does something interesting with the facts and history.

There’s a wish fulfilment element that might be an in-story fever dream or might be a comment by the film itself on the way entertainment and pop culture have depicted the tragedy with such macabre glee – maybe including what we expect to see from Tarantino.

A knowledge of the backstory about Manson’s involvement with Terry Melcher and his obsession with The Beatles’ Helter Skelter helps fill in some blanks you might be curious about (including Tate’s freaking out about Manson showing up at the house – he actually did so several times, not knowing Melcher had moved out). But “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” is ostensibly not about the Manson murders, it’s about exactly what it says in the title – the story of a woman losing her grip because she’s convinced something terrible is going to happen who just happens to be a famous and beautiful actress.

Which brings us to Farrands’ other strength – casting. If you only know Duff from Lizzie Maguire a hundred years ago or her pop music more recently, you won’t be prepared for what she puts into Tate’s crumbling sense of safety and rising sense of panic.

Her accent might seem wobbly across the film but here Duff and Farrands might also be going deeper into character than we realise. Born in Dallas, Tate had as corn-fed an accent as any Texan girl, but she worked to lose it for the sake of her career, and when talking about her psychic premonitions to her interviewer in the black and white scenes that bookend the film, Duff is using the subtly fake airs and graces that were popular at the time to make famous actresses appear more European than American to the press.

Rather than the dramatic thriller you expect, “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” is a full-on horror movie. There’s plenty of blood and scares and as the title suggests, it’s as if a literal ghost is on the prowl. The motifs from the true case – ‘pig’ and ‘healter skelter’ (famously spelled incorrectly) written in blood on the walls – become like Freddy’s bladed glove or Jason’s ski mask. And because the timeline follows its own rules instead of just moving from A to B sequentially, there’s a disturbing early tracking shot that drifts through the house and yard where the victims are sprawled, blood showered everywhere just like the crime scene photos from the actual case.

It’s surprisingly scary, surprisingly well staged and designed, and the story does some unexpected things that adhere to the spirit of the title rather than just tell the story in such a straightforward fashion. Leave that to the other Manson projects sure to emerge, maybe from Tarantino himself.

Film Reviews

Avengers : Endgame review : a masterpiece designed for the fans

An epic battle to end all battles

K.T Simpson

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One year after “Avengers: Infinity War” and it’s all culminating into one big epic end – aptly named “Avengers: Endgame”. Of course being a film set firmly within a superhero narrative, nothing is really “the end” so I wouldn’t shed too many tears, Marvel fans – there is plenty more Avengers to come, with “Spider-man: Far From Home” coming in July and the standalone “Black Widow” film upcoming with Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist. Producer Kevin Feige has noted that he considers “Far From Home” the ‘end’ of the third faze of the MCU, rather than “Endgame”, but regardless – one thing we can expect from “Endgame” is one giant battle to end all battles.

It’s nearly impossible to describe the plot of “Endgame” without giving away all the surprises, so I won’t. We all know what happened at the end of “Infinity War”, and in “Endgame” the leftover Avengers seek to right the wrongs and the chaos that Thanos (Josh Brolin) creates after collecting all 6 Infinity Stones. With 50% of the world’s population wiped out, which includes a large chunk of the Avengers and their families, the team embrace time travel to essentially turn back the clock and return the world to its original state and its inhabitants back where they belong.

The big focus for “Endgame” is the survivors, working together to save their crew and the rest of humanity – Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). The all-star group is only scraping the surface of what’s to come, with each team member bringing something to the table to help locate the infinity stones and fix what Thanos broke.

What follows is an entertaining thrill ride of surprises, “Back to the Future” jokes a-plenty and a killer soundtrack that is reminiscent of said film: and when you see the credits roll and Alan Silvesrti’s name come up, it all comes together nicely. If you think it’ll be all doom and gloom, given the subtext of the entire narrative, you’d be wrong – with the script full of humorous quips that are perfectly timed and the best way to crack a smile after half your favourite superheroes were reduced to dust in “Infinity War”.

Dead or alive, you’ll see all characters in this time-heist flick, which is really a film purely for the fans. It’s the superhero of all superhero films, and a terrific nod to the 21 Marvel movies that preceded it. It promises goosebumps, fistbumps and all other kinds of bumps that you’ll expect from an epic like “The Avengers”.

If you want a “Braveheart” style battle, you got it. If you’re after some clever pop culture references, take a big serving of that too. Furthermore, if you’re a big comic book nerd and just want a decent fix of superhero delight, “Avengers: Endgame” will deliver that as well. Oh, and if you want an appearance from the late and great Stan Lee – you will not be disappointed. But are you ever?!

Is it the best film ever made? No. But it does deliver in the hype we were all promised and is a spectacle more than anything else. The standalone Marvel films have more depth and substance to them, particularly on a character level. But “Endgame” promised the ending of all endings and that’s what you’ll get. Essentially it’s a fan service film, so Marvel fans – sit back and enjoy. “Endgame” delivers strongly on the nostalgia of the Marvel films that were delivered before it, and in a very clever manner. It is here that the film is most impressive, with the throwbacks to what has led them all up to this one final battle against Thanos. It’s a great way to see how it’s all tied together, and each film within the MCU has its part to play.

Though a long movie (3 hours and not a second under), it can be summed up very succinctly : “Endgame” is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s directors Anthony and Joe Russo at their absolute best, and something that will be proudly displayed on their trophy shelf.

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Film Reviews

Penguins review : a film the whole family can enjoy

All together now: awwwwwww

Mike Smith

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I don’t know what it is about penguins that make them so damn cute! Is it the way they walk? The fun they obviously have when they slide across the frozen tundra of the Arctic? The excessive fuzziness of their young? I really don’t know but I’m pretty sure they could do an all-penguin remake of THE EXORCIST, complete with projectile vomiting and self-gratification with a crucifix and people would go “awwwww.” Which is exactly the sound I made many times during a recent screening of “Penguins.”

Steve is an Adelie penguin looking for love. He and the other males in his colony are on a trek to find a mate. But the road to love isn’t easy. Especially when your pals are stealing parts of your nest in order to attract that special gal. And what are you supposed to do when you finally meet her?

A beautifully shot (over an almost three year period) film that manages to be both heart-warming and thrilling, “Penguins” gives the audience the “birds-eye” view of life in Antarctica. And it’s a pretty chilly one. Whether it’s having to walk miles upon miles to find food or teaching your chicks how to play dead when a leopard seal tries to eat them, it’s a hard knock life. Yet, it’s also one full of love and adventure.

Like “March of the Penguins” before it, “Penguins” is a film the entire family can enjoy. Kids will love it for the penguins’ parents for the story. Nature is on full display in this film and it’s one I highly recommend.

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Film Reviews

The Curse of the Weeping Woman review : fails to add any value to the Conjuring universe

Falls short of a decent horror

K.T Simpson

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“The Curse of the Weeping Woman”, known as “The Curse of La Llorona” in other markets, adds to the “Conjuring” franchise by introducing a new horrific entity for us to have nightmares over. In a world full of horror films, it’s becoming more and more rare for any film to stand out as an original addition, so let’s delve into “Weeping Woman” to see if it’s worth seeing…

“The Curse of the Weeping Woman” begins with social worker Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini) confronting a trouble mother who has seemingly been abusing her two young boys. As she gets taken away from her children, the woman pleads that there is more to her story, and blames the ghost of La Llorona – otherwise known as the Weeping Woman – for hurting her children. Unfortunately for Anna, La Llorona targets her children next, and will stop at nothing to take them away.

As Anna digs deeper, she discovers the history of the Weeping Woman in an effort to defeat her and get back to normal life, saving her kids in the process. Anna seeks help from a local priest, Father Perez (Tony Amendola from “Annabelle” – and practically the only tie to the “Conjuring” universe) who has had history dealing with demonic entities, such as that seen in the Annabelle doll.

As a standalone horror flick, “The Curse of the Weeping Woman” would be your typical teen-scarefest, and if you like a good jump scare then you’re in the right place. Where it fails is adding anything of value to the “Conjuring” universe. Its attempt at linking it back is by referencing a few key things from the franchise, but unfortunately it feels like a late script change to give it a reason to be released theatrically. Ultimately, James Wan producing a film within the “Conjuring” universe without directing reeks a lot like INXS without Michael Hutchence – the beats remain the same but there’s nothing that stands out, it merely goes through the motions of your stock-standard horror flick.

Furthermore, “The Curse of the Weeping Woman” is choc-a-block full of horror cliches – furniture flying across the room, doors opening and slamming shut, spirits suddenly appearing in people’s faces and said people being dragged across the room. Not to mention possession and nearly drowning in the bath. Absolutely nothing about this film is an original concept and that’s where it really fails to be any kind of memorable.

As the film nears its climax, it becomes unnecessarily complex as they attempt to defeat the corpse bride – or La Llorona as she’s called. As with any possessed house/person flick, things ramp up very quickly, but the elements involved with facing the spirit head-on are largely complicated, to a degree that just leaves audiences scratching their heads. As a result, the film goes from mildly frightening to just plain boring, as we wait for the end. Referring to the aforementioned clichés, the back third of “Weeping Woman” throws them all into a single scene – which is why it gets so weirdly complicated.

Michael Chaves directs “Weeping Woman”, and in terms of directing style definitely has a unique take. A lot of the frights come from first-person camera view, engaging the audience as if they too were living this nightmare. Chaves is also set to direct “The Conjuring 3”, due out in 2020, so it will be interesting to see how he ties the film in to both this one and the rest of the “Conjuring” franchise.

Look, overall “The Curse of the Weeping Woman” isn’t great. It’s a weird film to shove into “Conjuring” folklore, when it probably would be more successful as a straight-to-VOD teen horror for those looking for just another mindless demonic possession film.

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