Granger on Movies: A Hallo’screens trio
“BEASTS OF NO NATION”
If you want to watch real horror and feel timely terror, Netflix’s first original feature reveals the story of an innocent youngster recruited into the world of child soldiers.
In an unspecified West African country, pre-teen Agu (Abraham Attah) describes himself as "a good boy from a good family." His father is a teacher; Agu and his brother have been raised as a devout Christians.
Suddenly, refugees come through his town, followed by soldiers, who kill whomever crosses their path, including Agu’s family and friends. After fleeing into the bush, Agu is caught and delivered to the demonic Commandant (Idris Elba), the intimidating, manipulative leader of an anti-government militia.
Given little to eat and no uniforms, Agu befriends another lad, silent Strika (Emmanuel ‘King Kong’ Nil Adom Quaye). Along with others, they’re indoctrinated, armed and dispatched to ambush an enemy caravan. As part of his initiation, the Commandant orders Agu to execute a prisoner with a machete.
Before long, Agu has adapted to this new life, filled with sexual abuse and violent village raids in which success is measured by the number of innocent men, women and children massacred without mercy.
A particularly gruesome trick he’s taught is how to put a grenade in someone’s mouth and wait to see what happens. Drugs are a part of the brainwashing ritual, causing orgiastic hallucinations in which Agu is not butchering human beings but demons.
Adapting Nigerian-American Uzodinma Iweala debut 2005 novel, writer/director/cinematographer Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Sin Nombre," "Jane Eyre," HBO’s "True Detective") filmed in Ghana on a $6 million budget, recruiting and training a local crew.
He camped out in the jungle with 200 non-pro actors, including newcomer Abraham Attah and former child soldiers from Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Delivering a powerful performance as the fearsome, despicable Commandant, Idris Elba noted, "What happened to this child is happening every day to a lot of people."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Beasts of No Nation" is an intense, severely scary 7, filled with explicitly brutal, nightmarish atrocities.
Studded with subversive symbolism, Guillermo del Toro’s deceitful, psychosexual thriller may be just the ticket for Halloween weekend, although it’s neither surprising nor particularly scary.
"Ghosts are real," we’re told in the beginning, as aspiring American novelist Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) explains a short story she’s written.
"It’s not a ghost story," she tells a prospective publisher. "More a story with ghosts in it. Ghosts are a metaphor for the past."
In the early 1900s in Buffalo, New York, Edith is the only child of a wealthy, widowed industrialist, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). Eminently eligible, she’s courted by optometrist Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnan).
But then she meets obsequious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a penniless British aristocrat seeking American backing for his mining device called "a clay harvester." He’s accompanied by his icy, intimidating older sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain).
After Edith’s father astutely observes, "There’s something not quite right about them," there’s brutal murder that’s made to look like an accident.
Heiress Edith then marries seductive Thomas, who whisks her off to Allerdale Hall, his ancestral estate in Cumberland in northern England. It’s a decrepit, four-story Victorian house with a creaking elevator — and she’s forbidden to descend to the basement beneath the main floor.
It soon becomes obvious that Thomas is not who he seems, particularly when Edith, clutching a candelabra, sees terrifying apparitions haunting the cold, cavernous hallways of the lavishly ornate mansion, perched atop a heap of blood-red clay.
Reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s "Rebecca," innocent Edith’s pale, porcelain-like fragility is in stark contrast with calculating Lucille’s menacing, malevolent intensity.
While director Guillermo del Toro ("Pan’s Labyrinth," "Hellboy II," "Pacific Rim") insists that this is a Gothic romance, not a horror film, the screenplay he co-wrote with Matthew Robbins positions the heroine to eventually discover what the audience has already discerned — making it not only a traditional but predictable melodrama.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Crimson Peak" is a sinister, supernatural 6 — with stunning sets, sumptuous costumes, and stylish cinematography.
R.L. Stine has sold more than 400 million books worldwide, so it’s a pleasure to report that his young adult horror fiction series has been somewhat successfully adapted for the big screen.
Teenage Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) is not exactly happy about having to relocate from New York to the small town of Madison, Delaware, where his recently widowed mom (Amy Ryan) takes a job as high school vice principal.
But Zach’s angst is soon relieved when he meets the girl-next-door, Hannah (Odeya Rush), who is home-schooled. Her overprotective dad — who warns him to stay away — turns out to be reclusive R.L. Stine (Jack Black), an author held prisoner by his own imagination.
It seems that the monsters he’s created in his mysteries are real, which is why he zealously keeps them locked up. And when Zack unintentionally releases them, they terrorize the town. So it’s up to Zack, his nerdy pal Champ (Ryan Lee), Hannah and Stine to get them back into the books where they belong.
Children who have enjoyed Stine’s books will recognize creatures like Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, Praying Mantis, Werewolf of Fever Swamp, The Blob, Vampire Poodle, Slappy the evil ventriloquist’s dummy (voiced by Black), and a demonic gang of garden gnomes.
Scripted by Darren Lemke from a story by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and directed by Rob Letterman, who collaborated with Black on "Gulliver’s Travels," it combines many stories into a rather jumbled, often frantic stew.
While Jack Black doesn’t resemble Robert Lawrence Stine, he captures the essence of the prolific writer who has churned out 204 YA novels going back to 1992, while Jillian Bell gets laughs as Zach’s wacky Aunt Lorraine. Amy Ryan, Timothy Stone and Ken Marino appear all too briefly.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Goosebumps" is a silly, spooky, skewed 6. Following in the footsteps of "Hotel Transylvania 2," it’s a Halloween treat, family-friendly fare.