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The Escort (2016)
Good, but not for obvious reasons
I chose this film while randomly perusing Amazon Prime's lists, a strange new occupation I find a lot of us pursuing of late. I was looking for something in the vein of a Sebastian Gutierrez indie flick. I chose the movie based entirely on the description and poster, something I never do any more as my time is too precious to gamble on a bad movie. I was rewarded with a pleasant, if unremarkable, film that I'd definitely recommend, but for reasons other than the obvious ones. It wasn't bad and had a decent story but that's not what prompted me to write a review about it.
In downtown LA a young woman is earning her keep as a high-priced sexual escort and a young aspiring writer has lost his job and is looking for a good story. He's also addicted to an "instant hookup" app and ends up meeting our lady of the night in a bar when he thinks she's his next match. They form a partnership where he gets his story (about her) in return for watching over her while she deals with unsavory men, and if you can't guess what happens next this is probably the first movie you've ever seen.
I found the first 20 minutes or so enticing; the cast was attractive, the dialog crisp, the acting sit-com level or higher and since it opened with a woman having "specialty" sex and the male lead tramping around, it seemed like a film that was going to have an edge to it. It doesn't, and in fact it ends up being lighter fare, topically, than anything you'd see on prime time TV, but it passed the time. I started checking my phone at the half-hour mark and never really engaged again after that but I didn't turn it off either.
What really sold me on this film, and has kept me thinking about it for days, was the soundtrack. Not since the 80s or 90s can I think of a movie where I was so intrigued by the music playing underneath scenes and transitions, and the way it flavored my experience of this film. I've spent a lot of time in downtown LA and thereabouts and with the great photography and soundtrack the filmmakers really got the "feel" of the area right. It's not as easy a thing to do as one might imagine; making a film that accurately portrays a location isn't as simple as just planting a camera there, you have to get the feel of it right.
I'm also intrigued by films that are focused on sex but don't actually include any sexual content. There are a couple of fully-clothed "humping" scenes in this movie but it's all fairly innocent and unobtrusive. It reminds you that a steamy sex scene with full nudity isn't always necessary to make a point. Films made before the ratings game came into play in the late 60s or so had to rely on technique rather than bared skin to convey sexual tension. Again...how it "feels" rather than simply how rutting looks when you focus a camera on it. It's not a common practice any more and I have no qualms about showing sexuality and nudity, it's just intriguing when it ISN'T shown, especially in a film that is ostensibly about a woman who sells her sexuality for a living.
Lastly, I found it interesting that the movie seems to take place in a world populated mostly by Caucasians. It's not something I really thought about until I saw this movie; the idea that these people dwell downtown but rarely encounter any racial (or gender, for that matter) diversity seems odd. Again, having spent a lot of time in these locations it's unlikely to say the least. It's not a judgment call, I'm wasn't offended, just intrigued...had the film been made 15-20 years ago it wouldn't have even crossed my mind.
Anyway, worth a look, which is actually quite an accomplishment.
The Voices (2014)
A Mean-Spirited Film Desperate To Be Liked...
Amazon Prime has become a great place to find quirky, cult-y movies of varying budgets from different eras, some of which are buried treasures. "The Voices" is definitely quirky as it straddles the line between ghastly horror and campy humor, but doesn't quite a achieve cult status despite how hard it, or director Marjane Satrapi try to please.
The plot concerns goofy and amiable Jerry (played by the likable Ryan Reynolds, who appears to be having more fun than we are) who we find out very quickly has some problems with his mental health. He lives in a day-glo world despite his lowly employment and lives with two animal companions who seem to be able to speak to him in his own voice, but with funny accents. These are the best parts of the film and almost elevate it to the goal it was striving for--had the writer and director been disciplined enough to really explore the interior landscape of a serial killer this might have been a dark, but fun journey into the mind of a psychopath who you find yourself inexplicably rooting for despite his horrendous mis-deeds.
Unfortunately the tone shifts drastically when Jerry starts interacting with the women in his office, and the film becomes a fairly standard "will justice catch up to the killer or not?" would-be suspense film.
The performances, particularly by Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Jacki Weaver are so good you wish these actors were in another movie (and maybe they thought they were). The scenes with Jerry's foul-mouthed Scottish cat and slow-but-steady Southern dog are brilliant; well shot, funny and creepy all at once. The anti-spetic tone of Jerry's mental state in contrast with the reality we're giving brief glimpses of is chilling and thought-provoking.
Where the film stumbles is the hubris of its creators ignoring years of film and story development and trying, like an enthusiastic new film school student, to see if it's possible to create an entertaining story with a central character who is almost impossible to empathize with. It can be done..."Psycho" is probably the best example, "Citizen Kane" qualifies, "The Last Seduction" ...more recently, anything done by Todd Solondz, although that's just my personal opinion since I like his films...But the truth is, it's very difficult to pull this sort of story off, and questionable as to why anyone would try.
Here we have a film that revels in the mistreatment of women as entertainment; we're shown graphic images of women being cut up and terrorized and there's absolutely no "payoff" other than some smug "wink wink" humor with talking post-mortem heads; the women are barely even grieved let alone considered well-rounded human beings. All of this is shown from the point of view of our pro/an-tagonist, who ultimately can't be considered empathetic if you have any human decency or morals. So you're left with no one to care about, at which point the film becomes a study of psychosis in general; this worked well in David Cronenberg's "Crash" but this film doesn't have the conviction of its anti-morals that one had.
Instead we get a "comedy" that contains close-ups of excrement, graphic depictions of gore, violence against women and what appears to be actual depictions of animals copulating and killing on screen, tee hee. Adding further insult to injury, there's a tasteless, tacked-on "Austin Powers"-ish musical number for the end credits that tries to suggest everything we've seen was all in fun. This kind of sardonic humor worked well in a movie like "All That Jazz," but this film just hasn't earned the right to that kind of well-thought-out cynicism, nor has it played by the rules of its own attempt (and almost success) at creating a sense of madness.
In the end "The Voices" is trying very hard, like the lead character who is in nearly every scene, to get our attention and be liked, any way it can...by being shocking, offensive, derivative, immature, or simply not going away (the movie is over 90 minutes long). Surprisingly, what it did best for me was send me to IMDb about halfway through to start composing a review.
Swiss Army Man (2016)
Learning how to live by hanging with a dead guy...
Imagine the pitch: What if, on the eve of deciding you must take your own life in a remote location, you see a random dead guy washed up on the shore and, through a series of exercises in human physiognomy, including chronic flatulence and tumescence, the corpse (or zombie?) becomes your friend, teaching you how to live a more fulfilling life? Cheers to the studio(s) that funded this fun, clever, gross, touching and very dark comedy/bromance, and here's hoping discerning, intelligent movie audiences can continue to get more quality films that push envelopes the way this one does.
Taking a cue from the old story "Teig O'Kane and the Corpse," "Swiss Army Man" spends much of it's running time creating a relationship between someone at the end of his rope and someone who has passed the end of his rope, as our hero drags and carries around his talking cadaver pal. The conversations that take place between the living character played by Paul Dano and his new, deceased companion played by Daniel Radcliffe, include ruminations on growing up ashamed of your body and bodily functions and how it can translate into a broken sense of ego, destroying your ability to love and be loved. In fact, there's a possibility (spoiler here, perhaps) that all of this is merely a projection played out in the head of our hero. I don't think it is though; the fact that "evidence" is captured on video at the conclusion of this story suggests that the whole thing really was supposed to be taking place in the "real world," which makes the film a kind of dark fairy tale. I'm reminded of Todd Solondz' "Palindromes," which also (successfully) found whimsy in topics that are generally thought of in polite society as being taboo.
There is a lot of whimsy here...Dano's "Hank" exerts a great deal of energy to try to convince Radcliffe's "Manny" (or perhaps himself) of the importance of loving yourself and then others, while utilizing piles of junk to recreate scenes in real life (a cinema, a bus ride) that would make the castaways of Gilligan's Island proud (and the film has many such fun and familiar references to other works). The elaborate set-ups and the clever way this business is filmed reminds one of the work of Michel Gondry (and, unfortunately, sometimes succumbs to the same kind of preciousness Gondry's work suffers from) but is a feast for the eyes.
So too is the work of Radcliffe--what a dream it must be to be able to take on roles like this after the tedium of the Harry Potter films, and you can tell Radcliffe is having a great time. With his gravelly, stroke-victim speaking style and childish questions he creates a character something in-between the child robot in "AI" and Peter Falk. He jumps in with his entire (broken) body and goes places a lot of actors wouldn't have the (literal) guts to go. In fact, much of the enjoyment of the film (if that's what it is) is the focus on the flesh, guts and bones of "Manny's" dead body in all its repulsive, eruptive glory and it's hard to take your eyes off his fascinating, distorted face. David Cronenberg probably wishes he made this one. Dano is also fun to watch and gives a compassionate, touching, near-pathetic performance that veers just on the edge of going too far into child-like slapstick.
The film is far from perfect...the ending drags and one senses the filmmakers spent a great deal of time trying to outsmart today's sharp and literal-minded audiences. I found the ending satisfying but that's because I didn't have any expectations by that point. If the film had ended (spoiler again) in the "real world," it would have been awfully depressing but would probably have been more true to the set up. As it is, the ending fits into the "anything goes" premise set up earlier on.
There's also the "precious/cute" quality, the glorification of vulgar bodily function gags, long stretches that push credibility and a score that sometimes enthralls but often as not irritates. Clearly part of the reason this movie was made was to showcase digital effects but the effects work is sometimes a bit cheap looking (but I'm in the FX industry so maybe more critical).
But overall this is an original, engaging and well-produced piece of cinema that is meant for a specific type of audience. It's likely to irritate people who expected a mainstream comedy (to which I would query, did you watch the trailer? What were you expecting?), people who want Radcliffe to stay Harry Potter and people who are insecure with their sexuality (the film bravely crosses a line into glorification of two men experimenting with each other physically, hinting at necrophilia, as well as focusing on Mr. Radcliffe's bare derriere several times). But for the rest of us, who like films that challenge while entertaining, that offer shocks that exist for more than just shock value and are visually fulfilling, this film is a rare treat. It's free on Amazon right now, if you're at all intrigued, check it out while you can...it's a brisk, zippy little film that, even if you hate it, will probably stick with you, which is more than I can say for any of the endless Harry Potter films.
The Neon Demon (2016)
This film is not for "you"...
"Neon Demon" falls into that weird category of movies that aren't for everyone, which is what makes it wonderful.
Set in the high-fashion world of LA (??) "Neon Demon" takes its first cue from "Mulholland Drive," starting as the story of a young, blonde innocent played delightfully by a chameleon-like Elle Fanning who is sometimes innocent beyond belief and other times seductive, wise and deranged beyond her years. She meets a "friend" in Jenna Malone, who gives the film's most interesting performance as a possibly-predatory, possibly insane Lynchian lipstick lesbian and the movie then moves into Brian DePalma-land, filled as it is with ultra-clean, neon lit sets and the ever-pulsing electronic score. The plot follows Fanning's "Jesse" as she moves her way up the ladder of "success" in the cutthroat fashion industry and the malevolent forces that seem to be gathering, either to taint her quality or to, literally, feed on it.
While the plot isn't all that original (people in high-profile creative jobs can be literal cut-throat monsters, Hollywood is a tough town, the price of naivete is destruction) and the film contains some tiresome, unsavory moments of young women being threatened and dominated by men (and one gratuitous scene with a cadaver that would have stopped the show completely if what followed hadn't been equally outrageous) what makes the ride worthwhile are the 80's-inspired set pieces. Project creator "NWR," whose other films I have not yet seen, tips a hat to Kubrick, DePalma, "The Hunger" and "Cat People" (to answer the question many have asked as to why a certain scene of an uninvited animal guest appears in the movie). I imagine that's part of the problem...I don't think a lot people who reviewed this film negatively got the "joke." I chuckled through the entire movie, and I suspect the director wouldn't have minded. My first clue was the use of a Kubrick homage key word...I can't believe any director would put such a bit of business into a film and expect it to be treated seriously...likewise the Lynchian cameo of Keanu Reeves and Allessandro Nivola. The pace, the characters, the over-the-top fashions, the color scheme (I have a color-blind friend who can vouch that people with color blindness prefer a world that looks the way the film is colored) the retro music score and the nods to other psychological thrillers...I was absolutely delighted to find someone had seen and loved the same trashy films I enjoyed in the 80s and 90s and made a film that not only commemorates those tarnished gems but takes them a step further (I had no idea where the film was going to end up and found the ending satisfying as well as repulsive).
This film is not for anyone who has pre-conceptions going in, it's not for those who insist on viewing cinema as an art form of "literalism" ("Cinema Sins," which I actually enjoy), it's not for someone in a hurry, it's not for someone who wants to see a "Syd Field 101"-scripted action story with commonplace character tropes. It's female-centric, the politics are left-of-center and the movie absolutely requires you to surrender yourself to the moment and not be in control. It's probably not terribly deep in intent. It has the lack of narrative discipline of a European art film, it's too long and slow, it succumbs to the visually and mentally repulsive on occasion and doesn't provide easy answers...I'm not even sure the movie is asking any questions. It seems like the sole purpose of the movie, like "Enter The Void," is to generate a sensory response, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Would that many mainstream Hollywood films today were better at doing that much.
When this movie came out I read a lot of reviews saying this movie was "bad," that it was a disappointment, that it didn't live up to the potential created by the director's other films. As usual I took the advice of these reviews and missed seeing the thing in a theater before remembering that often as not the movies that people shout are "good" bore me to tears. To re-frame my subject line in a more positive light, if you find yourself liking movies that mainstream viewers don't, this might be one for you to check out.
This film is not for "you"...
Have you seen the one about the little doggie passed from owner to owner who, in her journeys, shows us some insight into some of the darker--and lighter--shades of humanity along the way? Did you like it? Hate it? Were you irritated by it, or merely bored?
Good, you're still among the living.
I saw a new Solondz film was out and was mildly excited--I was disappointed by his last two; it felt as if he was going the route of a lot of once-popular auteur-esque filmmakers these days--tiny-budgeted direct-to-video personal statements without the boldness and brashness (or budgets) that made the director famous.
An acquaintance told me he'd seen it *in a theater* and he liked Solondz but hadn't heard of "Palindromes" or "Happiness" (????) and was ambivalent about THIS movie. Others were saying it was Solondz's first "feel good" film (perish the vile thought!). Then it showed up as a freebie on Amazon--in fact they were rolling out the red carpet for a filmmaker who had become, basically, un-bankable in our Captain America world (word of Solondz's still having to keep his day job despite his prolific efforts as a director was depressing too). Thank you, Amazon, I've just renewed my Prime account...
Now we have "Wiener-Dog," which both recalls what Solondz fans love about his past works and brings something new to the table. To those who would argue he's merely repeating himself...did you make it to the end, with the lyrical, poetic vision of younger versions of the Ellen Burstyn character...? No, this "Black(comedy) Beauty for the 2010's" is not his strongest work--the short and (mostly) incomplete nature of the stories included prevents us from getting too involved, unlike, say, Aviva's "hero's journey" in "Palindromes" or the scathing and dread-inducing pedophile's story in "Happiness" or the "I was almost there once" shudders "Welcome To The Dollhouse" evokes. But for all that it's a powerful piece of cinema that isn't easily forgotten, happily enrages the conservative and small-minded and, like the best of Solondz, pits an undying optimism and love of beauty against all the darker themes, visions of an unavoidable imperfect humanity and grue. What is a cynic, but a buried optimist, after all? To those who would say the film is "hateful" consider that Solondz has gone on record as saying he loves his characters (even the pedophile in "Happiness"), a very evolved way of looking at things in a world of "I need a bad guy to transfer all my anger and hate to." Solondz's films have the audacity to present a world without gloss and fantasy visions of humans as immortal superheros...and still makes it all entertaining. It's easy enough to love this year's favorite celebrities, beautiful or no--who loves the "little" people, the people with flaws and egos? and there are a lot more of them (us), after all.
To those who object to the perceived mistreatment of an animal, or at least the CG glorification of it in the film's jaw-dropping final moments, it's SUPPOSED to be nasty. Did you see "Jurassic World," "The Force Awakens" or any number of big-ticket action films? (You probably did)...how many un-grieved, senseless deaths happen to unwitting bystanders in those films, one wonders? The tragic accidental death of a revered, humble animal in this film, presented unflinchingly and without fanfare, is more artistic, true and dignified than the horrifying slaughters that happen in movies made for children...but also reflects a bold and absurd "laughing equals crying" sense of humor that is a lot more complicated than the "laugh at every line" sitcom formula most audiences are used to. As a writing teacher told me once, "Sometimes kids need to hear that the 101 Dalmations did NOT survive, and were actually turned into coats after all," because that's as valid--maybe more so--than "they all lived happily ever after." I don't think it's a cynical joke the Nana character names her dog Cancer (and anyway, she could have been referring to the zodiac sign), but it is funny in a cynical way; when we stop laughing at tragedy we're really done for.
Lastly, to the critics who didn't get it (among them the Hollywood Reporter, New Yorker, EW, Travers and Reed--thankfully the reviewer on Ebert's page "got" it, as I think Roger would have), well, professional criticism is on the way out and thankfully movies like this get made, and seen, despite the tired personal rants of reviewers about what they personally don't like, based on their own simple biases. Oh, and the critics also neglect to mention that DeVito and Burstyn in particular give fantastic, noteworthy, touching performances.
Those of us who "got" this film know it was made for us, not all of "you," and are glad movies like this can still get made. The rest of "you" have everything else, and please do go enjoy mainstream, big-budgeted movies and keep Hollywood afloat so stuff like this can sip through the cracks now and then...
Lie Down with Dogs (1995)
A Product Of A Lost Era
"Lie Down With Dogs" probably only exists because it was a product of the mid-90s, and as such has become a bit of a time capsule of an era that is now long gone, for good or ill. In the early 90s entertainment with gay themes began to capture the interests of straight viewers; "Philadelphia," "Priscilla Queen Of The Desert," "The Crying Game" and the PBS mini- series "Tales From The City" were all successful and proved to Hollywood that there was money to be made in "gay cinema." The sole motivating factor in Hollywood is making a buck; suddenly gay meant cash, and there was a flood of gay-themed movies. Most of them were pretty terrible, some of them ("Broken Hearts Club," "Jeffrey," "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," "To Wong Foo") had bigger budgets and tried hard, and sometimes succeeded. The main thing Hollywood created was content: for the first time in history, there was an abundance of gay-themed films that took the subject matter more or less for granted-- these were not stories about perverts, degenerates and losers, the homosexuals of these films were heroes.
Nowadays it's hard to imagine how a film like "Lie Down With Dogs" would get any attention at all. Gay-themed films are the "B-movies" of the day, micro-budgeted without much distribution, but there are scads of them. Most of them are, like "LDWD," fluffy, forgettable and mostly fun, low on budget, acting or story but entertaining enough--like a trashy summer read. "LDWD" in particular shows a time when gay men looked a certain way, acted a certain way and thought certain ways...just listening to the soundtrack is like hearing a time capsule of what the 90s *sounded* like.
I picked this movie up for a dollar out of curiosity recently and found that what the movie is "about" was of little importance--that it isn't about a conflicted gay man trying to come out in a straight world or writhing in shame is the significant thing. That it's a mindless comedy about a young man on the prowl for love makes it no different than thousands of rom-coms made for straight people, which is also significant. There are now dozens of such movies to choose from but that wasn't always the case, and in a weird way makes "LDWD," which is NOT a particularly good film, a bit of a landmark. Also too the fact that the "author" of the film seems to have passed away lends the film a bit of significance, or at least poignancy; all the bubble-headed, insatiable, selfish characters in the film would now be a good deal older as would be the target audience for this film, gay men in 1995. The 90s are gone, the world has changed and "Tommy" and his buddies would have passed the torch to a younger generation of egocentric P-Town tourists by now. It makes the film seem almost sad somehow, in that light. I would be surprised if anyone even remembers this movie at all in another 10 years (or even today), and that's not the end of the world, but as a time capsule of a different era I think it's rather thought-provoking.
A description of this project can only be, like descriptions of Lynch's other more obtuse works ("Inland Empire," "Lost Highway," "Fire Walk With Me" "Rabbits") a description of "what happens" during the running time, which is more or less a useless venture. Try to describe what you dreamed last night to a friend and watch his eyes glaze over. One would hope that someone watching this video has a vague idea what to expect...you don't go for a viewing of something by Lynch hoping for "Singing In The Rain" at the least.
This project is definitely "out there," and like the other films mentioned is more or less non-narrative, more like a tone poem...what "meaning" there is to be found is probably up to the individual viewer. As I've said before about Lynch, only the dreamer of the dream can really guess accurately what any of it "means" to him, our experience can only be what the artist has filtered through. So what do we have? First and foremost, this recording, culled from two live performances Lynch was apparently commissioned to do, contains some of the wonderful, spooky songs written for and recorded by the ethereal Julee Cruise. The pyrotechnics, flashes of lighting, metal-on-metal surroundings, frustrated sexuality and typically Lynchian sound effects evoke an "industrial" dread that pre-sages Cronenberg's "Crash" a few years later. It is by turns perversely sexual, horrifically surreal, sweetly sentimental and slightly dull, and all within 50 minutes. The possible highlight is a song that plays like a sad lament for a lost era of 50's doo-wop, with two blasé prom-dressed girls and a chorus of vivacious Vegas showgirls.
This is "Lynch-land," and if you like Lynch you'll probably enjoy it, if not you would probably find it pure torture...it looks a bit "90's" by today's standards, it is relentlessly dark and slow at times and I question how much forethought actually went into it (Lynch himself claims it was put together pretty fast) but it is inherently memorable...one is unlikely to forget some of the strong images, or the plaintive sighing of Julee as she floats through the air, the embodiment of an innocent heart broken, but not destroyed.
Noteworthy low-budget splatter flick
There's very little territory to mine in the "mad slasher" genre...it was all done in the 80's, re-done in the 90's and has been "retro" done again ever since. A recent trend has been to drop the pretense of any "mystery" about who the killer is or what he/she wants and just aim directly for the nearest artery, and open it...on screen, with an unflinching camera. This has resulted in scads of thoroughly unpleasant low budget shocker flicks commonly labeled "torture porn." The genre itself is nothing new...Herschell Gordon Lewis mined the viscera field until there was nary an eyeball left to be stepped on in the late 60's. The 70's are ripe with truly unpleasant, mean-spirited, ugly little films that exist solely for lovers of human suffering and unrelenting grue to whack their puds to. And then of course there are "motion pictures" like the "guinea pig" series from Japan that take things to the furthest extremes imaginable...just because someone had to do it.
Somewhere in the middle of all this is an efficient little direct-to-the-home-market piece of sludge called "Carver" that I found exceptional for a number of reasons. I resisted it at first...as I have grown up I'm no longer as interested in watching people suffer as I was as a teenager glued to pay-cable. But, like many fans I know, I'm always looking for something a little different than what the genre usually offers. By the time I saw this one I already knew about the infamous "outhouse scene" and was prepared for the worst. What I didn't expect was that the scene in question, and pretty much all the splatter, was the least interesting thing to me in the movie. I've found myself watching it on "Crackle" in its edited/censored form while doing other things around my place, because it makes good background distraction. Huh? My suspicion is that Franklin Guerrero Jr. is actually a competent and enthusiastic film director who is aware of the time-honored tradition of breaking into professional film directing via the low-budget genre. And as such, he also knows that the bar MUST be raised in order for a film to get noticed. So make a film that ups the ante on the disgust-o-meter and you're likely to at LEAST get a chance to make another film, as it seems Guerrero has done.
"Carver" is nothing new, in fact it's old as the hills: stupid kids make the "mistake" of camping in a place where there's a vicious killer who then proceeds to kill them on-screen for, essentially, our edification. "Carver" adds a clever twist by incorporating the idea of voyeurism-via-film as part of the killer's motive, but that is, of course, beside the point. The "point" is blood, and much blood is spilled and yes, it is rather satisfying in a visceral, sick way when a film doesn't hold back (and the effects are reasonably well done). It IS disgusting, but as Helen Mirren said of her role in "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover," "It's all theater, darling..."
But kudos to the stunningly attractive Ursula Taherian, who seems to be a very credible actress and deserves more work, beyond low budget horror. Cheers also to Neil Kubath--the director was smart to have him carry the film...he's got an interesting face that wears a look of confused disgust with the world around him that I know very well from having had a similar little brother myself. His delivery is unusual and his position in the movie perplexing (he's not a hero, not an anti-hero, he simply exists, until he doesn't anymore). But the presence of Kubath, Taherian and some of the others, the gore and the premise (and yes, That Scene) anchor what would otherwise be an utterly forgettable entry into the genre and make this one, in fact, at least to this viewer, rather memorable.
Jane Eyre (2011)
Jane Eyre is a complicated story and, much like "Wuthering Heights," it defies film adaptation because you can't squeeze it into a traditional Hollywood "3-act" formula. They either sacrifice the plot to fit the formula or make a sprawling mini-series out of it that taxes the patience because it does NOT follow Hollywood formula. What is required is a thoughtful, well-planned and well-executed adaptation of the work. This "Jane Eyre" is one of the best adaptations of the novel--and a piece of classic literature--I've seen in a very long time.
The genius is in the structure...recalling "Wuthering Heights," in fact, the film begins around 3/4 of the way through the story. This does two amazing things: it provides a natural way to include the "St. John" episode which is often otherwise dropped in the interest of maintaining momentum, and it keeps the experience fresh for viewers who are familiar with the material and are now challenged by having the story told "in reverse." And, as adaptation, it's a near genius way to avoid redundancy--a re-write of the book might have incorporated the device, which is no small suggestion of course, and the highest possible praise for the screenplay you could imagine.
At 2 hrs running time the film feels full and "epic" but doesn't drag (well, it probably does for younger audiences who can't sit still for a film that doesn't move like a lightning bolt; I'm happy to say this film was not made for them). It encompasses the breadth of the story, which is very long, without leaving out too many important details (I was both anticipating and dreading Rochester's "gypsy" disguise moment and glad the makers of the film found a way around it). Most importantly it captures the "feel" of the source material.
I've noted other reviewers complaining about the "heart" of the film being absent, as if this were some Jane Austen bon-bon...this film is Bronte incarnate: dark, cold, unflinching,twisted, cerebral...passion that, even when it's released is subdued. The acting is superlative--you know that underneath the cold, repressed exteriors of these emotionally stunted characters fire-breathing dragons lie hidden, clawing to get out of their shells and let their passion loose--the very essence of the Victorian era. There have been complaints about some of the artificial elements of the storytelling...well, the BOOK had artificial elements, that's part of the charm of Victorian novels, really. I found the ending utterly satisfying, the final lines sent chills down my spine. They really, really nailed it.
Having traveled in England and studied Victorian novels some, and read quite a few, I found the film completely satisfying as an interpretation both of a specific work and of a genre in general. If people don't like this film then it's likely because they don't get it. Again, thankfully, it wasn't made for those viewers, but for the rest of us who understand what the goal was in lensing this film one more time, and how successful the attempt to capture this difficult book really was.
Great if you're in the mood
Have you ever really, really been angry at the world, so angry you'd just about break the law...so angry you just didn't think you could take it anymore? This film might be for you...
"Vendetta" is an odd one. It rides the fine line between being sleazy B-movie and a "real" movie. A little bit more nudity and it would easily qualify as something made for the cable TV pud-pulling crowd. More bloody violence and it would work for the gore market. A little less of everything and it might just work as a TV movie for a niche cable market. It has some snappy dialog and some smart themes, but it also has female prisoners allowed to wander around at will, kill each other at random and dress in Madonna-inspired underthings. I found it hard to believe even in the 80's that these women were allowed to sport 10 foot high mall-hair, whore make-up and frilly lace bras. Would that really be regulation? Even functional?
So a realistic view of a women's prison this is not. But who cares? It has Sandy Martin! She has to be one of the most under-used talents around...she is in lots of movies and always makes her mark on them ("Napoleon Dynamite" is probably what she's known most for today I'd imagine) but never really gets to show what she can do. In "Vendetta" she does, and she all but steals the show. As much as you want her to pay for the terrible things she's been involved in, she's so fun to watch you can't help but root for her too on some level.
The rest of the cast is serviceable. The fights may seem strange today because they're rather more realistic than audiences might be used to--they almost look to be in slow motion considering how action scenes are cut today (which isn't necessarily a bad thing--Kill Bill for example). But the action keeps coming and is quite satisfying in a low-rent kind of way...if you're in the mood.
This is a cheap film, 80's campy, very unrealistic most of the time, and hardly earth-shaking, but when I'm in a bad mood and feel like the world is against me I can think of few better movies to purge that feeling than one in which the wronged lead heroine, who is essentially a good person, destroys all the monsters who have ruined so many people's lives with vigilante justice...to answer the warden's very thought-provoking question, "Did it bring your sister back?" No, but watching this movie, I'm glad she did it all anyway, and I think I would've too, if I could've, and life was a movie.