Alex Sitaras: It’s the start of a new decade and first up for us to discuss in our Most Anticipated column is Nicolas Pesce‘s The Grudge. Pesce is starting to make a name for himself through his work in the indie horror genre with The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing. His films are perhaps a bit more unsettling and risk-taking than most American horror films, though he’s has consistent success in his career thus far. With The Grudge, Pesce is rebooting the American horror remake (2004) of the Japanese film Ju-On: The Grudge. Both the American and Japanese film franchises have spurred several films, and Pesce is the latest director Sony has hired to attempt and reboot the low budget horror series. With Pesce attached at director, The Newton Brothers as composers (constant collaborators of Mike Flanagan), and a cast including Andrea Riseborough and John Cho, there’s potential here for Pesce to add another successful horror film to his oeuvre despite previous misgivings that the franchise has had in the past.
Kevin Jones: This installment in The Grudge franchise focuses on a home that curses all those who enter it with a violent, gruesome death. It sounds like something that can easily be done poorly, so it will be interesting to see how Pesce handles it, though the January release date is definitely not inspiring. On the other hand, the cast is so good that is impossible to write-off entirely. Cho has been on fire lately, really coming into his own as an actor and appearing in some of the best films of his career thus far. Seeing Riseborough in a leading role – especially after starring aside Nicolas Cage in Mandy – will be interesting as well, as she can definitely capture the type of performance needed to anchor a horror of this type. After two successes to start off his career, how Pesce handles the transition to franchise filmmaking will be interesting as well, especially in the aftermath of somebody like Mike Flanagan who did the same.
Alex: Also starring a notable cast this month is The Rhythm Section directed by Reed Morano, featuring Blake Lively, Jude Law, and Sterling K. Brown. It is an action thriller where Lively’s character assumes the identity of an assassin in order to bring justice to those who caused a plane crash that killed her family. Morano has had an eclectic career so far behind the director’s chair directing a family drama (Meadowland), a post-apocalyptic drama (I Think We’re Alone Now) and now an action thriller. The Rhythm Section also marks the first of Morano’s films where she isn’t acting as cinematographer, instead enlisting frequent Steve McQueen collaborator Sean Bobbitt. For me, one of the questions on my mind regarding The Rhythm Section is its title. How will this musical term relate to the action-driven storyline of the film?
Kevin: To be honest, before I had seen the trailer a few months back, I thought this was music-related. So, I think your question is quite apt and intriguing to see how Morano will work this musical term into what otherwise appears to be a gritty action film. I’m very interested to see Blake Lively in this film. She has really started to come into her own as an actress in recent years with this being a departure from her typical persona. Though, A Simple Favor did show she could play a character with some darkness within them so how that manifests in The Rhythm Section, which steps it up a notch, will be very intriguing.
Kevin: January will also be a big month for new restorations and Blu-ray releases, one of which is Fail Safe (dir. Sidney Lumet). Long overdue on Blu-ray, it will finally come out courtesy of The Criterion Collection. Restored in 4K with extras including an audio commentary with Lumet, an interview with critic J. Hoberman, a documentary featuring further interviews, and essay by critic Bilge Ebiri, I am really excited that Fail Safe is finally coming to Blu-ray. It is one of the premier Cold War thrillers, focusing on a horrific scenario: an American plane is en route to the Soviet Union to begin nuclear war because of an electrical malfunction that incorrectly ordered a strike. Starring Henry Fonda as the President, Lumet’s thriller is incredibly intense and makes use of the public’s then-constant paranoia over nuclear warfare to create an edge-of-your-seat film.
Alex: It is a little surprising we haven’t yet had a Blu-ray for Fail Safe, but the film- despite positive reviews- got overshadowed by Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove, a film also revolving around military action and paranoia. Ironically enough, Dr. Strangelove also received its Criterion release earlier than Fail Safe.
Another restoration that earned our attention this month is House by the River directed by Fritz Lang. A film noir released by Lang in the years between Scarlet Street and The Big Heat, House by the River focuses on the aftermath of a murder. A novelist, Stephen (Louis Hayward), kills his maid, Emily (Dorothy Patrick), accidentally while drunk after she resists his sexual advances and enlists the help of his brother, John (Lee Bowman), in hiding the body. Since the body was disposed of in a sack bearing John’s initials, John is suspected to be the murderer. Looking to profit off of the attention the murder has brought his family, Stephen begins to write a novel related to the crime. Though I’ve not seen House by the River, I’m pretty certain it contains a similar dark, twisted tone to other Lang noirs such as Scarlet Street and would be enjoyable to both film noir and Lang enthusiasts. The Blu-ray restoration includes a new audio commentary from film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas as well as an interview with Pierre Rissient.
Kevin: I haven’t seen House by the River either, but as I love Lang, it is definitely a blind spot in my film watching history. Its plot is certainly in line with many of Lang’s other works, hinting at the darkness it likely presents. It is interesting to read about its backstory with Lang butting up against Hays Code guidelines in creating it, originally intending on casting the maid as a black woman. Due to guidelines about sexual desire between blacks and whites at the time and Lang’s intent to have the aforementioned sexual advances made by the novelist towards her, it was disallowed. I hope the new audio commentary or interview will discuss this aspect of the film’s history.
Also hitting home video in January is All About My Mother, to be released by the Criterion Collection. Pedro Almodóvar‘s 1999 film stars Cecilia Roth as Manuela, a single mother raising a son who dies tragically in an accident. After his death, she goes to find her ex-lover, who is a transgender woman, with whom she had the son. It is obviously an emotional story, one that I found a little underwhelming on a first go around a few years ago but with an obvious power that makes it worth re-visiting. The new Criterion release also looks like a great package with a 2K restoration, a documentary, a post-screening Q&A, a television program from 1999 featuring Almodóvar, and even a new subtitle translation. The booklet sounds promising as well with both an essay from Emma Wilson and a letter from Almodóvar to his mother. I’m excited to re-visit this one and sees how the many poignant themes Almodóvar introduces play a second time around.
Alex: The film also stars Almodóvar regular Penélope Cruz as a nun who works in a shelter. One of the things that stands out the most about All About My Mother is its use of color. Despite being released in 1999, the film wouldn’t look foreign amongst 1950s Technicolor movies yet it departs overtly, of course, from the films of the past in Almodóvar’s exploration of themes such as transexualism. With a 2K restoration, we can expect the colors to be a bit brighter and poppier than in a non-restored cut of the film which is something that will likely enhance the viewing experience of All About My Mother.