Author Archives: Candace Wiggins

About Candace Wiggins

Eclectic to a fault, I have a bent for SF and Horror films, pre-code movies; “small” films, “first time” films. While I think Jarmusch is a king among men, I also like Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese, Billy Wilder, Ridley Scott, Peter Weir for their ability to “build a world” and put viewers right in it, no holds barred. “Gosford Park” is my go-to movie. We shall never see the likes of Robert Altman again. I reviewed movies in a past life for an indie newspaper.

Little Candy Lou Who’s Favorite Xmas Xtras

By Candace Wiggins, Tawfik Zone Contributor

“A Charlie Brown Christmas”, 1965. One of the best. You know this one. If not… time’s a wastin’. This year is the 50th anniversary of this staple and the network has pulled out all stops with a salute, as stars and celebs sing songs against a backdrop of the Peanuts special itself.  This introduced the now-classic “Christmas Time is Here” by the inimitable Vince Guaraldi and is, simply put, a fun offering without being saccharine.

“Holiday Inn”, 1942. This B&W film features Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as a songwriting team with a young Marjorie Reynolds. And the most popular song ever, “White Christmas”, is written and sung in a charming scene. But when I finally saw the unedited print a couple of years ago, there was a scene where Bing and Fred and the wait staff at the hotel put on a minstrel show with our heroes as the holiday headliners. You read that right. People in blackface when it was still considered okay to do that. Nothing says The Holidays like white privilege.

Courtesy of internationalcinemareview.blogspot.com

Courtesy of internationalcinemareview.blogspot.com

“The Bishop’s Wife”, 1947. Charming fantasy with a heavenly (literally) Cary Grant as Dudley, an angel sent to help David Niven’s stressed-out minister. Some great sequences and a nice turn by Elsa Lanchester as the housemaid. The trimming of the tree by Dudley is still pretty fantastic and this is pre-CGI. Pure magic.

“Scrooged”, 1988. Because, Bill Murray.

“A Christmas Carol”, 1999. TNT’s made for TV movie has Patrick Stewart as the best Scrooge I’ve seen. Ever. Yes, I know I am Sacrilege Incarnate for saying he’s better than Alastair Sim but that’s how I roll.

Courtesy of www.drew-fuller.com

Courtesy of www.drew-fuller.com

“How The Grinch Stole Christmas” always warms the cockles of my black little heart and I have a friend who always sends me cards addressed to “Little Candy Lou Who”. Plus, Boris Karloff narrates and Thurl Ravenscroft sings one of the best paeans to curmudgeonry ever. What’s not to like?

“Rare Exports”, 2010. Do yourself a favour and watch this gem. It’s a very different Christmas story from Norway where a mountain excavation uncovers the real Santa who is quite, QUITE different from the jolly old St. Nicholas we all know and love. A great blend of comedy and horror told from a young boy’s POV.

“Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony Christmas Carol”… probably one of my favourites although I rarely watch it.  From the Pre-code era, and barely 8 minutes long, it’s worth the view. One of the hot toys is a zeppelin. Check it out.

“The Snow Queen”. The 1950s Russian animated film. Rarely seen in its intended form now, it was “revamped” for American audiences with new music, and — horror of horrors — the dubbed voices of America’s then-sweethearts, Tommy Kirk and Sandra Dee. I kid you not. But other than that, T and I both saw the original version and there is no way to impress upon you how good it is. Incredible.

I have favourite television shows just like everyone else and I almost always enjoy their Christmas episodes. Solving murders while decorating the office and making peace with mom and dad issues is de rigeur for holiday fare, especially for CBS primetime. One of my LEAST favourite Christmas eps, however, was from My So Called Life wherein a visiting angel is actually the ghost of a young geetar-strumming runaway who froze to death after a fight with her mother… boohoo. The next week, OTOH, was the New Year’s episode, one of my favourites. Go figure.

Happy holidays, however you do it.

Review: Crimson Peak (2015)

Crimson Peak looks like a dream. And, from the beginning, it IS a dream. A designer’s dream.

Courtesy of ucaecho.net

Courtesy of ucaecho.net

This is a lushly beautiful colour-saturated movie, full of achingly detailed clothing and sets. It is not unlike an over-the-top Christmas ornament sitting precariously on the highest bough of the tree, while buffeted about by director Guillermo del Toro’s neither fish nor fowl handling.

Is it horror? “Why no,” says he. It’s a Gothic romance. Only, is it? Maybe, maybe not. Or is it both? I doubt even del Toro knows. He was too busy pulling this fat little rabbit out of a hat to worry about labels.

The movie does indeed have ghosts in it from the get-go, starting out with socialite Edith Cushing Sharpe (an unfortunately bland Mia Wasikowska) telling us ghosts are real. She has always seen them, starting as a young child when her mother’s spirit visited her with a cryptic warning: “Beware Crimson Peak.”

Courtesy of www.contactmusic.com

Courtesy of www.contactmusic.com

Edith grows up under the watchful but occasionally indulgent eye of her wealthy industrialist father (a splendidly gruff Jim Beaver), trying her hand at being a novelist because what else is there for her? Suffragette City may be just around the corner but she is always being reminded of her “place,” including by other ladies in the rung just above her on the social ladder. She is all but courted by young doctor Alan MacMichael (a serviceable Charlie Hunnam) but just as it seems she might be open for business where MacMichael is concerned, mysterious English aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (the luscious Tom Hiddleston) enters the picture along with his tightly wound sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

The Sharpes are in need of a loan for a gizmo Thomas has invented which will surely see the Sharpe family fortunes turn again for the better if Mr. Cushing will just knuckle under and cooperate. But before much ado about something can be carried out, Wham, bam, thank you Ma’am, tragedy strikes in quite a gruesome fashion. Edith and Thomas are married posthaste quickly and she is whisked away to England to the Sharpes’ massive crumbling and haunted manse.

Courtesy of blogs.indiewire.com

Courtesy of blogs.indiewire.com

No matter how hard she tries, Edith just cannot win with Lucille. It doesn’t take ghosts to tell the newly wed that there is something VERY rotten in this particular state of Denmark. She is not allowed a set of keys to her own house, her health begins to deteriorate and she wakes up often at night and — Thomas is not there. Mmm. Where can he be?

Every note possible is struck throughout this ghost story/romance but some — alas — fall flat while same old-same old tropes are trotted out only to be rushed through. There is the sweet little dog that Lucille despises even as it keeps Edith good company. There are the restless spirits of the dead that float about, little CGI monsters Del Toro is so fond of and uses over and over in his movies. They worked in The Devil’s Backbone, didn’t they? Weren’t they great in Pan’s Labyrinth? Well, here they are again…

Del Toro seems to lose the story arc itself once the characters move from New York to the place nicknamed Crimson Peak. And it would have been nice to have seen a visual of that crimson peak which Sharpe himself mentions. But, alas, no. A quibble? Not if you consider the emphasis placed upon it more than a few times… and not always by the living.

courtesy of www.usatoday.com

courtesy of www.usatoday.com

It is too bad when a movie is so beautiful and yet so bereft in storyline that it becomes necessary to place a soliloquy worthy of Shakespeare near the tail end “explaining” what you have just seen, and may or may not have already figured out. When Lucille tells Edith that she and Thomas had only each other all those years, locked away up in the attic as children, well — that explains a lot about her behaviour. It doesn’t take much to figure out that dark family secret, does it? And why were those ghostly ladies all missing their left ring finger? Didn’t take long to figure that one out, either, since Del Toro all but pokes you in the eye with it.

While one of the best dance sequences in a movie is in the first half of the movie, one of the best fights to the death is in the last. You just THINK you’ve seen a girlfight. The circle is all but complete, and we are taken back to that image of Edith, standing on Crimson Peak’s bloody snow telling us she believes in ghosts while everything finishes going to hell around her. And like all good Gothic stories, this one has a not so happy ending for some as well as endings that are as good as it’s going to get for others.

Courtesy of horrorbuzz.com

Courtesy of horrorbuzz.com

Award-winning actors floundering with wooden dialog is not especially fun to watch, nor is it fun to ignore total lapses in logic. But those boys and girls looked stupefyingly good in those fantastic costumes and on those lovely sets. I suppose, to Del Toro, that is what counts in his vision as he seems more concerned with style than substance in this beautiful bauble of a movie. He is definitely a master of visuals.

Story? Maybe another time.

 

Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

A second popcorn/spy movie was rolled out this summer, but is not getting the attention/love it may deserve as it was overshadowed by the 800-pound gorilla that is Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

Courtesy of thesource.com

Courtesy of thesource.com

This is a shame as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is an overall good movie with a great soundtrack, good production, and decent performances. Director Guy Ritchie gives us a nuanced film that has enough hijinks for the action fans while layering in character development and background so the story makes sense. The only false note is Jared Harris, whose American accent comes and goes. Either you got it or you don’t.

Set against the background of the Cold War, the story as well as the characters affect a laissez faire attitude towards each other and the “mission,” which is only slightly less convoluted than the Cold War itself. With the Berlin Wall firmly in place in an increasingly hostile world, Napoleon Solo (a suave Henry Cavill) has been sent by the CIA to retrieve the daughter (Alicia Vikander) of a nuclear scientist held against his will by the “bad guys.” The plan is this daughter will help locate/extricate the father she’s not seen in, literally, years.

Unknown to our good guys, KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) has been sent to do the very same thing. Their ensuing car chase through the back streets of Berlin is fun and believable, unlike many bombastic over-the-top scenes in other films.

Courtesy of www.gamezone.com

Courtesy of www.gamezone.com

Mother Russia and Uncle Sam decide it’s better to work together — for this mission, anyway — to stop another proliferation of nuclear bombs, all the while secretly advising their respective agents to kill the other side’s man, if necessary. Well, we know that isn’t going to happen but the story as well as each agent’s “history” is solid and we are treated to a fun two hours that look and feel like we’ve been zipped back to the 60s. The heroes are real heroes, manly men who dress impeccably and drink dry martinis while saving the world. While villains are cool, calm and collected, the heads of the KGB and CIA are even more so.

Hugh Grant was a stitch as Mr. Waverly, his portrayal a wink and a nod to the fans. From the second he steps on to the screen, we know who is really in charge of the situation. Leo G. Carroll would have been proud.

Courtesy of www.lfmmag.com

Courtesy of www.lfmmag.com

Cavill does a good job as does Armie Hammer in portraying these iconic characters but there is a totally different take on their interaction, quite different from the old TV series. Cavill plays Solo like a slightly more dangerous cousin to Mad Men‘s Don Draper and makes it work while Hammer’s Kuryakin is worlds away from David McCallum’s portrayal of the hip Russian agent. They barely tolerate each other yet have a begrudging respect as time and again they prove their worth to one another. Viksander is more than just eye candy, a “chop shop” girl from East Berlin who plays a more important role than just the rescue mission of her father. She gives as good as she gets in every situation.

My friend enjoyed it even more than I did, and I liked it fine. Again, the only real problem was the timing of the film’s rollout itself. When you’re up against the 800-pound gorilla that is the Mission Impossible franchise, you might get lost in the shuffle — or you might very well get lucky and find a fan base that wants a different primate.

Review: It Follows (2015)

Horror aficionados are always on the prowl for the next scare, the next movie that is going to challenge them and disrupt their comfort zone. Some are gore fans, while others prefer a slow buildup before that sickening drop. Another faction prefers being on an express elevator to hell from the get-go.

Courtesy of www.denofgeek.com

Courtesy of www.denofgeek.com

So to tout a movie as “the scariest movie in the last decade” makes people alternately suspicious and hopeful. The golden age of horror wasn’t that long ago for most moviegoers. And people know this hype is for selling tickets. Desperate for a good story, however, fans will put up with a lot in order to find something passably frightening, or even a scare that has a “message”, the monster being a metaphor for any social ill that’s plaguing the very real landscape the audience finds itself in. Why? Because it’s better than nothing.

It Follows might indeed be better than nothing but that’s not saying much. The little indie film that could is being hailed as THE movie to see when, in reality, it is a flavor of the month film with a truly clever twist on an old theme everyone will recognize — teenagers die (horrifically) when they have sex.

Courtesy of www.nowhereelse.fr

Courtesy of www.nowhereelse.fr

To be fair, It Follows starts out with a fantastic opening sequence and ends with a disturbing visual. But unable to maintain the high energy and pace, the movie soon sinks like the proverbial stone once it begins drifting into the main story. And drifting is the perfect word to use for this film because that’s basically what the story seems to be all about — drifting.

The main character, a sullen blonde named Jay (Maika Monroe), floats in her pool. She looks at a bird. She floats in the pool. She looks at a squirrel. She floats in the pool. She looks at an ant on her arm. She floats in the pool. Boys watch her float in the pool. She looks at the boys. She drifts into her house where we meet her friends, the loyal wannabe boyfriend, Paul (Keir Gilchrist), her best buddy/sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and that other archetype in teenage horror films, the bookworm — what was her name again? And of course, next to no adults.

Courtesy of www.citebd.org

Courtesy of www.citebd.org

With few exceptions, this is the type movie writer/director David Robert Mitchell treats his audience to — long slow takes and not much dialogue, not to mention the unexplained “It”, the unseen title character. Is it a monster? Maybe. Maybe not. Mitchell doesn’t explain anything, giving the audience not much to go on, and there are serious lapses in logic in the final act.

Jay has drifted into a new relationship, and she has hot teenage backseat of the car sex with this latest paramour, a boytoy named Hugh (Jake Weary), who then chloroforms and abducts her — the truly frightening moment in the film — taking her to an out of the way place where he gives her a warning. He has “passed it” to her through the sex, and if she doesn’t have sex ASAP with someone else and pass it on to them, this thing, this “It” is going to follow her, and if it gets close enough to touch her, it will kill her.

Courtesy of weminoredinfilm.com

Courtesy of weminoredinfilm.com

Nothing is known about what it is, where it comes from, what it wants. All that is known is “It” can show up as a stranger or as someone you know and if “It” touches you, you die a horrific death (that girl at the start of the movie sure did).  So sex ensues throughout the movie. Set against the backdrop of a decaying Detroit, we see Jay’s paranoia and disintegration and lapses in judgment as she slowly unravels which, in someone else’s hands, may have elicited sympathy and terror as she is targeted by something nobody believes is there — until they do.

With no real explanations forthcoming, with no plot other than having sex to pass on the curse, It Follows is stitched together with occasional great bursts of action that can’t quite gel. It Follows starts out with a bang, but disappointingly dissolves into nothing more than a setup for the inevitable sequel.

Courtesy of io9.com

Courtesy of io9.com

While “It Follows” isn’t “the scariest movie in the last decade”, it is still better than nothing, which isn’t quite fair to the movie or the genre.

Review: Gone Girl (2014)

By Candace Wiggins, Tawfik Zone Conrtibutor

Courtesy of www.flickeringmyth.com

Courtesy of www.flickeringmyth.com

Rosamund Pike is Amy Dunne, the main character in Gone Girl, a film from the book of the same name, adapted by the novelist herself — Gillian Flynn. Ms. Flynn populates her novels with realistic if unlikable characters, usually a go-to staple in director David Fincher’s portfolio. Flynn and Fincher join forces and give us a seemingly perfect couple in the characters of Amy and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). From the first frame, the Dunnes seem to have knives sharpening against each other and themselves with every turn of the screw. But no matter how sharp everyone else is, Amy is miles ahead.

David Fincher is one of my favourite directors, with Se7en and cult favourite Fight Club, among others. With those two gritty in-your-face movies under his belt, one expects this story about a disappearing woman and her increasingly suspect husband to have an edge as sharp as a shiv.

Courtesy of thethinair.net

Courtesy of thethinair.net

It’s obvious Fincher had a great time making this movie. Everyone seems to be having a great time. And that’s one of the problems. We are always aware they are having a great time making this movie. The actors never are anything but actors.

And, except for one or two scenes, this is a relatively bloodless movie. It’s almost all set dressing with pretty clothes, pretty people and pretty dialog. One expects Gwyneth Paltrow to show up at some point with input on how Amy and Nick should consciously uncouple.  That would have been great fun and a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the parameters and the superficiality of the charmed lives of the elitist WASPs.

Courtesy of thethinair.net

Courtesy of thethinair.net

However, the story itself gives us more than the horror of a missing wife and her increasingly mistrusted husband. It gives us the creepiness of one’s life being on constant display from the time one is born, as Amy’s psychologist mother has written about Amy in a wildly successful series of books, about every experience “Amazing Amy” ever had, ad nauseam. The movie also juxtaposes these scenes with a searing contrast of the ugly disintegration of same against the backdrop of an increasingly impoverished town during the encroaching recession.

And this is where the rubber meets the road. When the going gets tough, the tough get going — literally. A job loss, an argument, misspent funds, another argument, a raised voice, a push and a shove and then, go figure — Nick comes in one day and finds a suspicious scene at home, complete with busted decor, and Amy gone. As everyone who is paying attention knows, the spouse is always the first suspect.

Courtesy of www.apnatimepass.com

Courtesy of www.apnatimepass.com

Nobody, including Nick, has any idea what has happened and/or where Amy could be, despite being pushed hard by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens). Boney is the closest thing the audience has for a stand-in. She spends the first half of the movie trying to discover what, if anything, Nick is hiding. She all but sneers at Nick as she peppers him with pointed observations and questions.

And the speed at which Amy becomes a cause célèbre is so rapid fire as to be dizzying. The detectives do not like or trust Nick, even as the public adores and supports him. Then, within very little time, that public turns on Nick as Detective Boney starts realizing something really is rotten in this particular state of Denmark. And in order to find Amy as well as find her secrets out, Boney and Nick have to join forces with a showboating lawyer (Tyler Perry) who helps Eric navigate media-driven waters, waters that will see him sink or swim while a television audience of millions watch.

Courtesy of www.hitfix.com

Courtesy of www.hitfix.com

Because Amy IS gone, her “reasons” to disappear seem not much deeper than the misfiring of an agenda that is not really made clear except that she wants to, gosh darn it. Because in the end, it seems that she’s simply grown bored with old Nick and the staid little life they’ve carved out for themselves.

Unfortunately, Rosamund Pike plays Amy so aloof and restrained and calculating, there is nothing to latch on to. We might as well be watching the aforementioned Miss Paltrow as the overall performance is so pallid and cobbled together. The lack of chemistry between Pike and Affleck is disappointing as we obviously are meant to care about what happens to them individually and together as the original set of events triggers one weird development after another.

Courtesy of www.andpop.com

Courtesy of www.andpop.com

We hear Nick’s narrative from the beginning starting with a series of flashbacks and we hear Amy reading her own narrative, a carefully constructed diaried chronicle meant to be found by the police — and it is — to get Nick in even more dutch. She ultimately has the tables turned on her by a couple that looks like they just stepped out of “Duck Dynasty” a dangerous twosome she, Amazing Amy, has vastly underestimated and she ends up having to use — that is the right word — an old flame (Neil Patrick Harris), a past classmate so obsessed with her that there were restraining orders against him. The spider and the fly game is played so well by Gone Girl that not once does he realize the danger he is in as she not only plays him but sets him up for the end match.

Carrie Coon as Eric’s loyal twin sister Margo, affectionately called Go, does a stellar job of portraying a loyal and sympathetic character caught up in the whirlpool that takes over her brother’s life. Go maintains a sense of self and integrity as well as a moral core nobody else seems to possess. There are some dark comedic moments thanks to her and Rhonda Boney, incredulous snippets where the audience laughs (Boney trying to interrogate the Really Amazing Amy herself at the end is priceless.)

Courtesy of www.technologytell.com

Courtesy of www.technologytell.com

Expecting so much from Fincher, thanks to his past triumphs and takes on our modern society was a possible misstep. However, one wonders had there been a little bit more “Right Here Right Now” in the Gone Girl’s repertoire if the movie would have rated the grade A everyone wants to give it rather than the C+ it actually deserves.