Deadly Virtues: Love. Honour. Obey.


Megan Maczko is all tied up at the moment.

Megan Maczko is all tied up at the moment.

(2014) Thriller (Artsploitation) Megan Maczko, Edward Akrout, Matt Barber, Helen Bradbury, Sadie Frost, Nathan Gambrill, Adam Patel, Andy Davie, Paul Rogers. Directed by Ate de Jong

 

The true test of a marriage is what occurs behind closed doors. What a couple presents to the world – and it is almost always that of harmonious domestic bliss – isn’t necessarily what is going on when the two are alone.

It’s a Friday night in a quiet English suburb and Tom (Barber) and his wife Alison (Maczko) are doing what a lot of couples do on Friday night – indulge in some mildly kinky sex. They are interrupted by an intruder (Akrout) with a European accent who asks drolly if he can join in. He clubs Tom into unconsciousness and leaves Alison as she was – a little bit tied up.

Tom is left in the bathroom with an elaborate shibari-style series of knots leaving his fingers extended and the rest of him immobilized in the tub. Tom is gagged as is Alison who is in the kitchen in a very uncomfortable looking position hanging by her arms with one leg nearly bent double. Her discomfort is likely less pressing when she considers her situation; her and her husband are under the complete control of a stranger whose motives have yet to be determined.

As the weekend goes by, Tom is tortured by the stranger in increasingly violent ways, usually as punishment for something Alison did or failed to do. Also as Saturday becomes Sunday, we see an unexpectedly tender side to their tormentor and we find out that both Alison and Tom have secrets that give lie to their image as a happy loving couple and hint at darker things in their characters.

The movie is definitely very dark in tone and not for the squeamish; the torture scenes are certainly squirm-inducing and the sexuality of the characters are handled in a frank no-nonsense manner. The filmmakers don’t shy away from delicate subject matter in the slightest. But as home invasion movies go, this one isn’t quite Brand X. Things don’t happen in ways you would expect and just when you think this is going to be Torture Porn: The Home Edition, things change. That change might be a bit jarring for some but in all honesty I found that it came rather organically.

The performances are pretty solid, although I think Barber was a bit shrill at times although as his character is further revealed, maybe shrill was the way to go. Most of the movie revolves around the dynamic between the stranger and Alison and both Maczko and Akrout acquit themselves well, giving nuance to both characters. Maczko in particularly is impressive; Alison has deadened herself emotionally after years of life with Tom and as more of what that life entailed is revealed we find out why she seems so closed-off. It is masterfully done and when the climax comes, Alison’s actions while a bit startling are nonetheless understandable.

As a matter of fact, the third act of the movie is where most of my criticisms can be found; in a movie that had up to that point shown subtlety and restraint in the build-up in those crucial final scenes seems to lose complete control of itself, particularly in terms of length. I got a sense that there was a lot of padding added to the end as much of what happens is somewhat repetitious to what we’ve already discovered.

I’m not sure what to think of the musical score. It’s almost more suited to a romantic drama than a thriller but given what the stranger wants to create with Alison there is some merit to that approach. Still, my issue is that I was made aware of the score and that’s almost never a good thing but I think if I saw this movie a second time, I’d probably be more forgiving about that.

The movie has generated some controversy in England where there were complaints about its treatment of women as well as its portrayal of the BDSM element. I do think that there is an element of politically correct hysteria to the outrage but it also should be noted that this movie definitely has the ability to trigger sexual abuse survivors from all sorts of angles and those who are easily triggered should probably not see this and those who are not should be aware that the potential is there.

Otherwise this is a solid movie that examines domestic abuse from different aspects and it does so in a clever way that is thought-provoking and only a little bit prurient, although hardcore feminists might disagree with the latter. I think in many ways that we have way too many hang-ups in the discussion of sex that often interferes with our dealing with it in a rational and positive way. This is a movie that attempts to do that and it should be lauded for at least trying.

REASONS TO GO: A very sobering look at sexuality and domestic abuse within a marriage. Maczko and Akrout both give compelling performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Barber gets a little shrill at times. The third act feels a little bit padded.
FAMILY VALUES:  The violence on display here is sadistic and sometimes gruesome; there is also some brief nudity, sexual situations and plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  De Jong is best known in America for his family film Drop Dead Fred which is about as far in tone as two films by the same filmmaker can get.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/8/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Funny Games
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Hidden Figures

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New Releases for the Week of September 18, 2015


Maze Runner The Scorch TrialsMAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS

(20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Patricia Clarkson, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen. Directed by Wes Ball

In the sequel to the 2014 hit adaptation of a young adult sci-fi novel, the sequel takes the survivors of the Glade into a new environment; an underground post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has left the surface of the Earth which has become too dangerous to support life. However, what they thought was safety proves to be far more sinister as the WCKD corporation seems to have plans for them – plans that might be hazardous to their health. Before long, they are fleeing to the outside world, the Scorch where they discover that the truth isn’t what they thought it was.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard  (Opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language)

Black Mass

(Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson. Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger held Boston in an iron grip during the 70s and 80s. One of the great crime bosses of modern times, he played both sides against the middle, reputedly an informer for the FBI – certainly he manipulated the bureau to his own advantage, while running amuck on the streets. The Jack Nicholson character in The Departed is based on him.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (Opens Thursday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R  (for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use)

Captive

(Paramount) Kate Mara, Mimi Rogers, Michael K. Williams, David Oyelowo. A young mother struggling with drug addiction is taken hostage in her own apartment by a desperate escaped convict, who murdered the judge assigned to his case. Using an inspirational self-help book as a guide, she helps find purpose not only for her own life, but also a more peaceful resolution for the convict. Based on the true story of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse)

Everest

(Universal) Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Keira Knightley. Mt. Everest has become a commercial goldmine as companies have sprung up offering to shepherd climbers to the summit. It’s no laughing matter as it is a dangerous venture to say the least, and on one day in 1996 two expeditions taking their clients to the top are hit with a massive storm, resulting in one of the deadliest days in the mountain’s history. For those who don’t live near a large format screen (i.e. IMAX etc.), don’t fret; the movie will hit  general release next week in both 3D and standard formats.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: True Life Thriller
Now Playing: Large Format Theaters
Rating: R (for language, violence and brief drug use)

Grandma

(Sony Classics) Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer. While recovering from the breakup with her girlfriend, Elle receives an unexpected visit from her granddaughter who needs $600 for an abortion. Unfortunately, Elle is temporarily broke so the two go to find the money among old friends, family and acquaintances, dislodging quite a few skeletons from quite a few closets in the process. Word is that Tomlin is an early favorite for this year’s Best Actress Oscar for this role.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Amstar Lake Mary, Enzian Theater, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando
Rating: R (for language and some drug use)

Katti Batti

(UTV) Imran Khan, Kangana Ranaut. One is an architect, who is stable and secure. The other, a free spirit who lives life to its fullest. Each one loves the other for those very same qualities. This Bollywood film follows their five year live-in relationship which isn’t all dancing and rose petals.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Bollywood
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)


Beauty is only skin deep.

Beauty is only skin deep.

(2011) Thriller (Sony Classics) Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Luis Gomez, Bianca Suarez, Susi Sanchez, Barbara Lennie, Fernando Cayo, Chema Ruiz, Concha Buika, Ana Mena, Teresa Manresa, Fernando Iglesias, Agustin Almodovar, Miguel Almodovar, Marta R. Mahou, Carmen Machi. Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is something of an acquired taste. He has directed zany comedies and taut thrillers but none of his movies really fit into any neat little boxes. His movies tend to push boundaries, whether of things that are considered socially acceptable or of cinematic convention. You may not necessarily like all of his films but they will make an impression.

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a brilliant surgeon and medical researcher who is on the cusp of an amazing discovery – artificial skin that is flame retardant. His own wife had perished from injuries suffered in a fiery car crash so he has a personal stake in making this breakthrough. When he presents his results at a medical symposium it appears he may well be on his way to a Nobel Prize if things go the way that he hopes.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the good doctor has been performing illegal transgenetic experiments on humans. He is forbidden from continuing any further research on the subject. Of course, that’s not going to stop Dr. Ledgard, who on his secluded estate has been keeping a woman named Vera (Anaya). He has been grafting the artificial skin onto her body and he has gone too far to stop now. Through his loyal maid Marilla (Paredes) he dismisses the other servants and starts to step up testing on the skin.

Unfortunately, it’s about this time that Marilla’s criminal son Zeca (Alamo) turns up while Robert’s away and spies Vera on a closed circuit TV monitor and demands to see her in the flesh. When his mother refuses, he ties her up and rapes Vera, which clearly doesn’t sit well with Robert. These events will lead to an unveiling of secrets, including who Vera is and how she came to be the mad doctor’s captive.

Almodovar based this loosely on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet although he used a bundle of different influences as well, from Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast to a number of literary sources which are listed during the end credit acknowledgements. There are a lot of different themes going on here, from medical hubris to personal obsession to the masks we adopt. Then again, Almodovar generally tends to deliver very layered films with themes that often invite controversy or at the very least post-screening discussion.

Banderas was an early Almodovar discovery in such films as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! although he hadn’t worked with the Spanish director in 21 years. Here he is at his best as the creepy, arrogant and psychotic scientist.  Dr. Ledgard believes he is doing good work, although not necessarily for humanity but certainly for his own needs. He is haunted by his dead wife and is literally trying to recreate her from the skin down. Vera is merely the conduit for his mad obsession. He becomes a kind of Dr. Frankenstein but in a modern medical sense. Almodovar handles that aspect rather clinically.

Like most of Almodovar’s films, the appeal isn’t going to be universal. Some will see this movie as way too strange and way too twisted for their own sensibilities and I can certainly understand that; there were times in the movie that I was a little uncomfortable myself and I tend to think of myself as pretty open-minded, cinematically speaking.

The movie’s ending isn’t going to brighten anybody’s day. Still, this is a really good movie for people who love to discuss the nuances of a film with friends afterwards. This is not only an intellectual exercise but an emotional one as well, with some visceral elements. The Skin I Live In isn’t the best of Almodovar’s films nor is it even his most squirm-inducing but it is the closest thing to a true horror film as he is ever likely to get.

WHY RENT THIS: An interesting, twisted modern update of Frankenstein. Banderas at his creepy best.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be a little too twisted for some. Kind of dreary ending.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some very strong violence including a sexual assault, graphic nudity and sexuality, some drug use, disturbing images and rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Among the books acknowledged in the end credits as inspirational material (copies of which appear in the bedrooms of Dr. Ledgard and Vera respectively) are The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins and Angel at My Table by Janet Frame.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray contains footage from the New York premiere and an interview with the director conducted before a live audience.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $30.8M on a $13.5M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (purchase only), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eyes Without a Face
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Annabelle

The Woman


This is the new Goth look.

This is the new Goth look.

(2011) Horror (Bloody Disgusting) Angela Bettis, Pollyanna McIntosh, Marcia Bennett, Sean Bridgers, Carlee Baker, Tommy Nelson, Lauren Ashley Carter, Shyla Molhusen, Vincent Gordon, Zach Rand, Shelby Mailloux, Laura Petre, Lauren Schroeder, Alexa Marcigliano. Directed by Lucky McKee

Take the animal out of the person and, so the way of thinking goes, you are left with a civilized human being. Often however that civilization is only a veneer and when you strip it away you find the inner animal.

Chris Cleek (Bridgers) is a lawyer and a family man, well-respected around town. He likes to go hunting now and again and on one such trip he spies a woman (McIntosh) with a fishing knife in the river spearing it and eating it raw on the end of her knife. He is fascinated by this obviously feral woman and decides to take her home and civilize her. He captures her with a net and knocks her out.

When she awakens, she is chained in his garage on his rural, isolated property. Cleek turns out to be a monster, abusing his wife Belle (Bettis) and oldest daughter Peggy (Carter) who is becoming withdrawn at school, her grades plummeting. His son Brian (Rand) is developing a sadistic streak of his own. The youngest, Darlin (Molhusen) is just a toddler.

Chris begins enlisting his family in “civilizing” the woman, using a pressure hose to wash her, and subjecting her to all sorts of torment. Brian participates enthusiastically while Belle and Peggy are much more reluctant. In the meantime Mrs. Raton (Baker) has become suspicious of Peggy’s change in behavior and decides to pay the home a visit.

There she’ll find a house of horrors that she (and we) didn’t expect. Survival of the fittest is what nature teaches us and the woman will have to be very fit indeed to make it out of the garage alive.

This movie debuted at Sundance  in 2011 to a great deal of controversy. A significant portion of the audience walked out on the film and those that stayed accused it of being misogynistic trash. This is where you can tell the difference between a critic who understands film and those who don’t – there is a difference between a misogynistic film and one in which misogynistic acts are displayed. On the one hand, the agenda is to describe women as inferior who deserve the treatment that they’re receiving; clearly in this movie the men are the monsters, perpetrating all manner of horrors on women. However, it is these men who are woman-haters – these characters. We are able to identify them as such by their behavior. Calling this movie misogynistic is like calling the makers of the Bond films megalomaniacs because their villains behave in that manner.

A superior performance is demanded of McIntosh and, fortunately, received. She doesn’t utter a word of dialogue other than grunts, snorts, screams and screeches. Much of her acting is done through body language and through her eyes. An Oscar-winning performance this ain’t but it does show a great deal of physical talent. I’m not sure she’ll get a lot of opportunities out of this but she should – there’s a real deal actress under all the grime.

There is a good deal of gore and violence, including the (inevitable) sexual assault of the woman by Chris. This is definitely not for the squeamish or those who find violence and sex distasteful. Then, this isn’t the sort of movie that was really made for that sort of person. It is a movie about the savage inside us, one that often has a civilized veneer. Which one was truly the monster – the Woman or Chris? I think you’ll find that question easy enough to answer.

WHY RENT THIS: Brutal but not meant to be taken seriously. McIntosh lets it all hang out in her portrayal of a feral woman.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some might find it misogynistic.

FAMILY VALUES: Warning, this is a pretty shocking film by any standards. Let’s see, there’s some pretty graphic violence and gore, misogynistic  behavior, a fairly brutal rape, graphic nudity, foul language and torture. Louise May Alcott this ain’t.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The word anophthalmia which is used repeatedly during the film by Chris refers to the congenital absence of an eye or both eyes and teases one of the aspects of the film’s climax.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is an animated short and a music video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shuttered Room

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Promised Land

After.Life


After.Life

Who knew the dead could be so hot?

(2009) Horror (Anchor Bay) Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Josh Charles, Chandler Canterbury, Celia Watson, Luz Ramos, Rosemary Murphy, Malachy McCourt, Shuler Hensley, Alice Drummond, Sam Kressner, Erin Ward. Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo

Dead is dead, or so conventional wisdom would have it. Once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, the party’s over. What happens then is highly up to speculation.

Anna Taylor (Ricci) is a beautiful young teacher who has the world opening up to her on the horizon. Her boyfriend Paul (Long) is about to propose when they go out to dinner but they get into an argument. Anna storms out of the restaurant and drives off, angry and emotional, the rain falling in sheets. Inevitably, she gets into a nasty accident.

When she wakes up, she’s in the morgue, attended to by Deacon (Neeson) who informs her that she’s dead. Deacon has the special gift of being able to communicate with the dead under his care, able to help transition them from this life to the afterlife. Anna finds this difficult to accept. Deacon counters that most of the newly dead find their new situation hard to accept. They always whine that they have so much left to do, so much unfinished business.

Anna feels alive though and nothing Deacon can say or do will dissuade her. She wants to call her  boyfriend to rescue her from this maniac keeping her against her will in this terrible place; but from his point of view he’s trying to help her accept her fate and move on to her final rest. But is she alive as she asserts that she is, or dead as Deacon maintains that she is?

This is an intriguing concept that has a “Twilight Zone”-esque quality to it. First-time director Wojtowicz-Vosloo doesn’t always know what to do with it. Her job, as I see it, is to keep audiences off-balance without giving away the answer to the question “is she or isn’t she” and for the most part, she succeeds. Occasionally though she stumbles, sometimes failing to maintain the inner logic of the situation. Of course, that’s more the fault of the script than the direction but as she also co-wrote the script, she doesn’t really have that out.

Ricci is lustrous here, spending a good chunk of the movie nude (and also a bluish shade which kind of increases the allure) and her trademark gothic waif look is perfect for the role. Her physical charms notwithstanding, she also gives the part a certain amount of emotional wallop, going through stages of grief (denial, anger, fear) while never becoming shrill.

She has some great chemistry with Neeson, who is such a great actor that even a role like this which doesn’t really push him all that much he still manages to imbue with his charisma and invite the audience to get invested. The movie’s main selling point is to make it ambiguous as to whether Deacon is a kindly guide or an evil monster. Neeson pulls it off so that either option is possible.

I’ve mentioned “The Twilight Zone” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – but the movie here, rather than paying homage to the show tries to emulate it a bit too much. There is not so much a Rod Serling influence rather than an attempt to bring him back from the dead and the corpse doesn’t smell too good to be honest.

That aside, the concept is good and the acting solid enough so that it gets a pass for all its flaws. Sometimes critics such as myself just have to get past what a movie could have been and accept it for  what it is. No doubt this could have been a whole lot better – but it is as is good enough for me.

WHY RENT THIS: Spooky and atmospheric. Ricci and Neeson have some great exchanges.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script should be more ambiguous and let the audience figure out whether or not Anna is dead. Too much Rod Serling here.

FAMILY VALUES: The whole theme is pretty disturbing; there’s also some nudity and sexuality as well as a buttload of bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The prop knife used by Ricci during the film is the same one Glenn Close used in Fatal Attraction.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2M on an unreported production budget; in all likelihood this lost money or broke even at best.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Ides of March