The opening of The Beguiled is lush on every level: Mist hangs in the moss-draped trees as a young girl goes out mushroom-picking, her singing underscored by an uncanny low rumble. We’re in the Civil War South, so that rumble must be battle, a muffled sound that barely intrudes on the idyllic scene. This is director Sofia Coppola in signature mode, creating voluptuous sights and sounds that disguise a serious deficiency of ideas. The Beguiled may be the most inert of Coppola’s films, a vapid cruise through an isolated hothouse. Along with its other shortcomings, it’s not nearly as interesting (and nowhere near as perverse) as the 1971 film that precedes it, directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood.
Adopting a bear is not recommended as a real-world option, even if the bear is small and cute and stranded on the platform at a London train station. Make a note of this. In the non-real world, the concept of bear adoption has worked out just fine for Michael Bond, the English author of the “Paddington” stories. (He’s still around, age 89.) Since debuting in 1958, his books about the amiable bear from “darkest Peru” have been consistently popular with kids and grown-ups alike.
Paddington has popped up as a TV character before, but — somewhat surprisingly, given the success rate of films based on familiar kid-friendly characters — not in a movie. Paddington rectifies this omission. And this mostly British production is a winningly bright and funny feature, as befits the lovable main character.
Stoker (Fox) – Hollywood is always drafting new talent from abroad, especially from thriving cinema cultures. From Mexico, we received an injection of new blood thanks to Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cauron, and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Back in the nineties, it was the Hong Kong action stars on both sides of the camera, from Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat to John Woo and Corey Yuen.
For the past few years, South Korea has been leading the Asian wave of hit action movies, horror films, and thrillers and Hollywood has once again taken notice. 2013 marks the respective American debuts of three top South Korean directors: Kim Jee-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird, I Saw the Devil), who made the Arnold Schwarzenegger come-back film The Last Stand (released earlier this year on disc and reviewed here); Bong Joon-ho (The Host), whose end-of-the-world thriller Snowpiercer is due for release later this year; and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Thirst), director of Stoker, a film that doesn’t fit within the usual genre parameters.
I like to think of Stoker as a vampire movie without a vampire. At least not in the mythic sense of the term. Mia Wasikowska is dreamy and uneasy as India Stoker, a teenage girl who is preternaturally attuned to the world and disconnected from the kids around her. Matthew Goode is creepily calm and seductive as the uncle she never even knew existed until he arrives for a funeral and stays on in the family manor (he is her Uncle Charlie, in fact, an offhanded reference to Hitchcock’s take on another dark uncle-niece relationship). Nicole Kidman is dizzy and disconnected as her weak and ineffectual mother. She seems to want to be there for her daughter, but she hardly seems present in the world at all.
Park sculpts the film, directed from an original script by Wentworth Miller, beautifully. We see the world through the heightened senses of India as she works through the loss of her father while attempting to measure this smiling, hypnotic uncle who has drifted into her life. He presents himself as her dark guardian angel, attempting to seduce India with his confidence, his power, and his violence (he seduction of the mother is more literal), but she has a more savvy understanding of the depths of his darkness.
There is blood and brutality and the icy threats under silent intimidation, but done with such elegance and eerie suggestion it feels like a dream. Park layers the film in atmosphere and texture, shuffling flashbacks and dreams into the present, all part of India’s journey to the heart of the family legacy her father always knew she would inherit. As you can guess, I was captivated by this world and by Park’s mesmerizing mix of the visceral and ethereal.
Blu-ray and DVD, the supplements on the Blu-ray release only: the featurette “An Exclusive Look: A Filmmakers Journey,” three short theatrical behind-the-scenes featurettes, a musical performance from the “Red Carpet Premiere,” and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also includes a Digital HD UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming.