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Indie Focus: Rebecca Hall makes ‘The Night House’ come alive

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This continues to be a confusing moment in media, for audiences and the industry alike. Just as it seemed movie theaters were making a comeback, COVID concerns amid the spread of new variants decided to make a comeback too.

There is also the recent lawsuit filed by Scarlett Johansson against Disney over compensation for “Black Widow,” which is likely just the beginning of a talent revolt over how people will be paid during the streaming era.

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But we are here to help in making sense of what all that means to you. More specifically, we are here to continue to help you navigate these uncertain waters to find the best things to watch. While this newsletter is all about the best in cinema, wherever it may be found, The Times’ new “Screen Gab” newsletter is dedicated specifically to things found on streaming, be it movies or TV. (Sign up here.) In this week’s edition of “The Wide Shot” newsletter, Ryan Faughnder spoke to TV Editor Matt Brennan about “Screen Gab,” which launched this week. (And yes, I am writing in this newsletter about another newsletter’s conversation about yet another newsletter. As I said, media in 2021 can be confusing.)

As Matt put it, “In my mind Screen Gab is for anyone who watches TV or movies at home. And in the last 18 months especially, that means just about everyone — casual viewers, hardcore fans, industry insiders. Most of us are yearning to talk about what we’re consuming too, so Screen Gab combines recommendations from The Times’ film and TV teams about what to watch and where to find it with the kinds of conversations you’re having over dinner, on Slack with colleagues or in text threads with friends.”

He adds, “The whole idea is for it to be freewheeling, irreverent, fun. Whenever I have meetings at networks or agencies around town, I always say, ‘We don’t watch TV like we used to, so why should we cover it like we used to?’ Screen Gab is an expression of that.”

Last week Justin Chang reviewed Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang’s new film, “Days,” calling it “something exquisite and rare: an elegiac, autumnal work that also feels like an artistic breakthrough. It’s a tale of profound isolation and thrilling connection, alert and alive and gorgeously sensual even as every moment carries a bittersweet reminder of time’s inexorable passage.” The film’s run in L.A. has been extended, so it is now being presented by Acropolis Cinema at the Lumiere Music Hall through Aug 26.

When I recently sat down here in Los Angeles with filmmaker Leos Carax and musicians Ron and Russell Mael (better known as the band Sparks) to talk about their collaboration on “Annette” for a story that will publish soon, it was the first time the three of them had seen each other since the Maels accepted Carax’s best director prize on his behalf at the conclusion of last month’s Cannes Film Festival.

“I mean, we felt a little bit presumptuous,” said Ron Mael of taking the stage to accept one of the film world’s most prestigious prizes. “Just having the opening-night film there was like unbelievable, because we are such film fans, we’ve got all these books, ‘The History of Cannes,’ all this stuff. But it was kind of strange because Leos wasn’t there to win when he finally got honored by the Cannes Film Festival. So we felt a little bit presumptuous to be accepting the award on his behalf, but we were kind of shoved up there and we were happy to do it. He deserves it, not only for ‘Annette’ but just as a lifetime achievement award.”

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‘The Night House’

Directed by David Bruckner from a screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, “The Night House” is first and foremost a showcase for actress Rebecca Hall, who brings an intensity and incredible dynamic range to the film. In the spooky horror story, Hall plays Beth, a woman whose husband recently committed suicide; she’s coming to believe he is haunting the remote lake house where they lived. The cast also includes Vondie Curtis-Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, Sarah Goldberg and Stacy Martin.

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For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “The moments that stay with you in ‘The Night House’ aren’t the scary ones so much as the tense ones, and to see Rebecca Hall in action is to immediately grasp the difference. As Beth, an upstate New York schoolteacher cycling through shock, grief, rage and fear after her husband’s suicide, Hall puts you on edge almost as much as the house in question. She’s a brooding pleasure to watch here; sometimes you fear less for her than for the people unfortunate enough to get in her way.”

For Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh wrote, “Hall is surrounded by fantastic supporting performances by Jonigkeit, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Sarah Goldberg, but she owns every second of ‘The Night House.’ Her performance is surprising, unpredictable and mesmerizing, turning the grieving widow trope on its head. Rather than cowering and weeping in her haunted house, she’s brash, forthright, determined; even insouciant to the point of making others around her uncomfortable. Beth is refreshingly blunt, she says what she means, she yanks the door open and screams into the night sky; she dares Owen’s ghost to show himself. She’s just this side of funny, and her complex emotions and reactions are fundamentally more realistic and relatable. … Yet, Beth faces down her demons with a kind of unbridled courage that is rarely seen in a haunted house film, and it is absolute bravura work from Hall, encased in the thoughtful and perfectly executed craftsmanship that Bruckner brings to the horror genre.”

For rogerebert.com, Brian Tallerico called the film “an old-fashioned ghost story that reveals unimaginable truths after a shocking loss. Owing more to films like ‘Carnival of Souls’ and ‘The Innocents’ than most recent genre fare, it’s a very impressive mood generator, the kind of movie that wants you to be unsettled from very nearly its first frame all the way through its final one, and it mostly gets that job done. In terms of sheer craft, it’s the best work yet from David Bruckner (‘The Ritual’) as he precisely slides his camera through the increasingly discomfiting life of a woman who is learning that she may actually be safer now with her husband haunting than she was living in the same house as him. With top-notch sound design to truly amplify the experience, this is a must-see for horror fans, one of the better genre pics of 2021.”

A woman lies on the floor in front of a bathtub.
Rebecca Hall stars in the movie “The Night House.”
(Searchlight Pictures)
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‘Cryptozoo’

Written and directed by Dash Shaw, made in collaboration with animation director Jane Samborski, “Cryptozoo” has an enviable voice cast including Michael Cera, Lake Bell, Zoe Kazan, Angeliki Papoulia and others. In the story — part political allegory, part psychedelic throwback — fantastical beings knows as “cryptids” attempt to live in harmony with humans. The movie is at L.A.’s Nuart Theatre and available on digital and VOD.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “What it leaves you with is a grim reminder that human beings can’t help but exploit, corrupt and harm everything they touch, even under the guise of advocacy and stewardship. That’s a fairly obvious lesson, but also a hard one to argue with. If humanity and all its works are the problem, I confess I wouldn’t mind seeing the human-free, all-cryptid version of this movie, one that allowed Shaw’s creations to rule the screen in all their winged, furry and scaly glory. Triumph, disaster or something in between, it would require us to do what even the best-intentioned human characters here cannot: Approach the cryptids on their terms, not ours.”

For the New York Times, Beatrice Loayza called the film “a rapturously hallucinogenic daydream for mature audiences,” adding, “‘Cryptozoo’ stands out as an aesthetically ambitious undertaking, seducing viewers with its hypnotizing hand-drawn animation and John Carroll Kirby’s pulsing electronic score. The story is interestingly windy enough, but it’s these otherworldly sounds and fluidly surreal, pastel-colored images that will leave you entranced.”

For Variety, Jessica Kiang wrote, “The ostensibly grown-up ‘Cryptozoo,’ despite its occasional utopianism versus pragmatism college-debate-style dialogue, is mostly as thematically straightforward and morally binary as any kids’ film (and possibly more so, given the complexity achieved at times by Pixar or the uncanny, amoral mysticism of Ghibli). And its allegorical power, despite the presence of so many wondrous supernatural beings, and the references to everything from Greek myth to the Garden of Eden to Celtic fairytale, maxes out at a kind of generalized ‘be respectful of folks who look different to you.’ But even the most simplistic sentiment can be made resonant when rendered in such labor-of-love artwork, when the grandiose and grotesque characters are drawn and voiced with such individuality, and when the lavishly textured backgrounds fill every frame to bursting with eccentric detail. In this zoo, the story may be tame, but the images, and the imagination that releases them, run wild.”

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For IndieWire, Eric Kohn wrote, “In the process of envisioning creatures from another world, ‘Cryptozoo’ seems as if it was made in one, too. ... Shaw doesn’t reinvent the storytelling playbook so much as he runs it through his own kaleidoscopic filter, resulting in a welcome excuse to rediscover the mysteries of life through an unpredictable framework. ‘Cryptozoo’ may be disorienting in parts, but the process of settling into its zany rhythms is the whole point. Brimming with constant new ideas and visual innovation, Shaw’s work captures the flurry of thought and motion at the center of dangerous times, and even dares to make them fun.”

Three women are on a mission in the animated movie "Cryptozoo."
Lauren (voiced by Lake Bell), left, Phoebe (Angeliki Papoulia) and Joan (Grace Zabriskie) are on a mission in the movie “Cryptozoo.”
(Magnolia Pictures)

‘Reminiscence’

Written and directed by Lisa Joy, co-creator of TV’s “Westworld,” the new movie “Reminiscence” mixes film noir and science fiction in a dystopian detective tale. Nick Bannister (Hugh jackman) helps people reexperience their memories via a process called Reminiscence. One day Eve (Rebecca Ferguson) walks into his office and soon his whole life is upside down. The cast includes Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu and Angela Sarafyan and the film is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

For Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh wrote, “‘Reminiscence’ is a rumination on living in the past, filtered through the detective genre in a fresh and innovative way, making a mystery out of memory. It’s also a big, earnest romance that’s sometimes a bit too in love with the sound of its own voice, often bogged down by endless pontificating on the nature of storytelling. … ‘Reminiscence’ is a daring and futuristic sci-fi story based in a familiar genre and driven by familiar human emotions: love, loss, betrayal, regret. The dystopian elements are also all too real, from climate change to class warfare to border wars to internment camps. Joy is merely relaying the writing on the wall, looking at our own history, diving into our own collective memories, to imagine our future. It’s a larger reminder that sometimes looking back is worth the effort.”

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For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “Like Nick’s clients, ‘Reminiscence’ oscillates between the past and the present, which fits a thriller nestled at the intersection of film noir and science fiction. Yet while Joy has handsomely kitted out her future world with ominous cascades of water and other apocalyptic flourishes — the rich live on dry land while the poor struggle to keep from drowning, literally and figuratively — the past exerts a stronger pull on her. She treads a lot of familiar genre ground, which is expected (and fine!), but she also stuffs ‘Reminiscence’ with so many cinematic allusions that the movie itself soon feels like a very thin copy. Pastiche comes with the neo-noir territory but can also inundate it.”

For Rolling Stone, David Fear wrote, “There’s a bigger mystery worth solving then the one swirling around the center of this future-shocked neonoir-by-numbers, which is: Why does it feel so D.O.A.? Yes, Jackman feels oddly miscast as the heartbroken white knight poking his nose into all sorts of dirty business, but you can’t place the blame squarely on his broad shoulders. Ferguson makes for a fine femme fatale, even if she eventually gives up trying to color outside the lines of this sketch of a mystery-woman character. The soft-boiled pulp dialogue (‘You’ve got balls, Bocce-size!’) does no one any favors. Both the sunken South Beach setting and the concept of a service catering to yesteryear junkies go from intriguing twist to novelty with a depressing rapidity. … Although ‘Reminiscence’ doesn’t try to hide any inherent metaphors — what are most movies these days, really, but nostalgia machines, designed for those stuck in the past? — it doesn’t do much with the material besides fashion something like a a dull-edged ‘Blade Runner.’ All that’s left is irony: For a would-be brainteasing thriller so obsessed with memories, ‘Reminiscence’ is almost painfully, instantly forgettable.”

For Vulture, Rachel Handler considered the film within the larger arc of Jackman’s career, where he often played men chasing women who are either dead or displaced across space and time. (Who knew?) As Handler wrote, “Watching ‘Reminiscence,’ I started to wonder if I was living in my own little watery dream machine, constantly watching Hugh Jackman lose his mind over a gal and subsequently try to pervert the basic constraints of reality. What is the meaning of this unholy pattern? Is Hugh simply drawn to movies where he gets to take off his shirt and bleed from a non-fatal ab wound while screaming at the unmoved sky? Does he get off on appearing both ruggedly masculine owing to a searing, time-travel revenge quest and emotionally tortured owing to an ineffable loss? Or, more likely, is he himself lost in time?”

A man seated at a table with a woman standing behind him, her arms crossed in front of her.
Thandiwe Newton, left, and Hugh Jackman star in “Reminiscence.”
(Ben Rothstein / Warner Bros. Pictures)
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