Women


In the clutches of a predator.

(2021) Thriller (Gravitas) Anna Maiche, Anna Marie Dobbins, Adam Dorsey, Michael Simon Hall, Cindy Hogan, Christian I. Noble, Erinn Jones, Christi Cawley, Susanna Matza, Kylie Deire, Kristin Samuelson, David E. McMahon, Victor Rivera, Isaak Wells, Heather Fusari, Denise Gossett, Anthony del Negro, Shea Stewart. Edward Hubay, Ebony Mason, Kelly Schwartz. Directed by Anton Sigurdsson

 

The line between depicting the exploitation of women and actually exploiting them is razor-thin. It is hard to depict torture and sexual assault without crossing that line; good intentions aside, it can get you into trouble in an era where rape culture is being called out for what it is throughout our society.

Detective Hawk (Dorsey) is working a case of a grisly find; a desiccated corpse of a woman is found in the trunk of a car in a junkyard in a small Florida town. As he works the case, he discovers that the woman had gone to the local college where another co-ed, Jennifer (Dobbins) had disappeared some months past. In fact, as Hawk looks into it, there are several beautiful young girls who have passed away. Their relatives all received postcards that basically said “I’m fine. Don’t look for me,” and all took the sociology class of Professor Bradley Gilmore (Hall).

To cap things off, another co-ed – Haley (Maiche) has turned up missing as well. Hawk has some personal demons of his own – his mother is a heroin addict, as was his sister who had similarly vanished and then turned up dead. However, he hasn’t told his mother that his sister has passed on; her emotional state is such that it might just send her over the edge.

Hawk knows that Gilmore has the girls. He has rape accusations in his past, but the charges were dropped – his wealthy family paid off the victims. In the meantime, Professor Bradley is using rape and torture to mold Haley into the perfect wife. Jennifer, who has survived by essentially capitulating to his warped demands, advises her to play along if she wants to live, but Hailey knows she can’t live like this – she plans to escape, although Jennifer implores her not to try. Can Detective Hawk find the girls in time, or can they find a way to escape? If not, the girls will surely die.

Icelandic director Sigurdsson has a difficult task; to make a movie in which women are systematically tortured, humiliated and sexually abused without being exploitive. I’ll be honest with you; I think in some ways, he did succeed and in others, he did not. For example, there’s no overt nudity and most of the sexual assaults take place off-camera. On the other hand, the women in the film are largely shown in victim roles, whether victims of a sexual predator or of drug abuse. While Hailey is at least a strong female character and Jennifer is in her own way, both are largely helpless in their situation.

Sigurdsson also wrote the screenplay and he doesn’t devote much thought to character development. Only Hawk gets any sort of background at all, and Sigurdsson didn’t even give him a first name – Tony, perhaps? – which is not a good idea because in a movie like this, you need your audience to relate to the characters in it and quite frankly, we’re not given enough background for any of them to really develop any sort of simpatico with any of them. The closest one to it is Detective Hawk, and Adam Dorsey’s performance isn’t bad given the circumstances, but he isn’t given a lot of help.

Sigurdsson does have a good feel for tone and while the movie is a slow builder, it does find its footing late in the movie and the final twenty minutes are pretty good. To get there, though, you have to wade through about an hour that is slower than your last period class on the last day of school, or the last hour of work on a Friday before a holiday weekend. One reviewer I read called this misogynistic garbage, and I can understand where she’s coming from, but I think it’s a bit disingenuous to ascribe motivations to someone you have never met and don’t know. Looing as objectively as I can at the final product, I can say there are elements that could be construed as misogyny here, but that doesn’t make this a misogynistic. I agree, the film is quite underwhelming, and I don’t think that it adds anything new to the kidnapping subgenre but it isn’t completely devoid of value either.

REASONS TO SEE: Does get the tension level up nicely late in the film.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very slow-building – perhaps too much so.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, sexual references, sexual content, profanity, rape and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some scenes were filmed at the University of Florida in Gainesville, with students there appearing as extras in the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/8/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Collector
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Tomorrow’s Hope

Slalom


The ski slopes can be their own kind of prison.

(2020) Sports Drama (Kino Lorber) Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Marie Denarnaud, Muriel Combeau, Maira Schmitt, Axel Auriant Blot, Melle Tistounet, Gaspard Couder, Maxence Clément, Victor Senegas, Alice Berger Sabbatel, Catherine Marchal, Fred Epaud, Dominique Thomas, François Godart, Michael Vander-Meiren, François Briaut. Directed by Charléne Favier

 

The relationship between an athlete and their coach is one driven by trust. In recent years, we have heard – to our horror – of youth coaches who have taken advantage of their positions of authority to gain sexual favors from those in their charge. It is not a pretty story.

Lyz Lopez (Abita) is a 15-year-old girl with enormous potential to make the French ski team. Her single mom (Combeau) works far away, leaving her alone to study at an exclusive private school where she is trained by Fred (Renier), a slalom champion who has retired from the sport. Fred is, at first, demanding and autocratic, but soon turns gentle and supportive as the unconfident Lyz starts to win races and, more importantly, believe in herself. The relationship between Lyz and Fred grows closer.

It is cringeworthy when we see Fred touching Lyz in places I would not want my teenage daughter to be touched by her coach; nor would I want to have her grilled about her menstrual cycle, as Fred does to Lyz. But we all know where this is heading; so, too, does Lyz, I believe. And she’s okay with it, at first, as she enjoys the attention of a charismatic, attractive older man but when the house of cards begins to tumble and the inappropriate crosses the line into abuse, it threatens to destroy both coach and athlete.

Although there are scenes of sexuality, this is not a sexy film. As we watch Fred groom his victim for later sexual conquest, we recoil and see Fred, perhaps, as a monster, although there are signs that Fred himself is a wounded soul, even more so than the vulnerable Lyz. This doesn’t excuse his behavior, however.

The movie hinges on the performances of Abita and Renier. It is no surprise that the latter delivers; he is, after all, a veteran of several Dardenne Brothers films and has a history of charismatic performances. However, Abita is a relative newcomer who lit up the screens in Genese and shows that she is likely to be one of the most important actresses in Frances for the next several decades with her performance here. It is subtle, nuanced and rarely goes in for unnecessary histrionics. She is absolutely note-perfect here.

So too is the cinematography; the ski sequences are breathtaking as the camera is right there with Lyz on the slopes, giving the audience a feeling as close as possible to flying down a mountainside without first having to strap on a pair of skis themselves.

The subject matter is handled matter-of-factly and although most will tend to see Fred as a monster (and he is), there is more than one dimension to the character which makes the role somewhat heartbreaking. If you’re looking for a nice, neat, Hollywood resolution at the end of the film, you are likely to be disappointed. What you WILL get, however, is an outstanding, sober and quietly damning look at how easily authority is abused.

REASONS TO SEE: Harrowing and occasionally deeply disturbing. Ski footage puts the viewers on the slopes.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the teen angst material seems forced.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use, nudity, sexuality, and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature film (after several shorts and a documentary) by Favier and is based on her own experiences as a young athlete.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Downhill Racer
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Oak Room

Monkey Kingdom


Monkey see, monkey do.

Monkey see, monkey do.

(2015) Nature Documentary (DisneyNature) Tina Fey (narrator). Directed by Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill

What could be more fun than a barrel full of monkeys? Try an ancient Sri Lankan temple full of monkeys.

The latest nature documentary from Disney’s nature documentary arm once again enraptures us with incredible images of animals in their natural habitats just being themselves. In this case, we’re following a tribe of Macaque monkeys in an abandoned ancient temple that has largely been reclaimed by the jungle. We get to see monkey culture as very much a mirror of our own, with those at the top getting the best of everything and those at the bottom struggling to survive.

The heroine here is Maya, one of the bottom dwellers. She exists on whatever scraps of food she can find on the floor of the jungle. The tops of the fruit-laden fig trees are reserved for Raja, the alpha male and the Sisters, a trio of red-faced dowagers who serve as Raja’s support group. In monkey society, the sisters are essentially born into privilege whereas Raja earns his position by fighting his way to the top.

The social hierarchy is very strict and attempts to rise above one’s place is met with severe punishment. Maya’s outlook changes when she meets Kumar, a male who has been driven from his own tribe by their alpha male looking for a new tribe to join. Kumar is taken by Harold…I mean, Maya…and her cute-as-a-bug bowl haircut that resembles Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber. Eventually Maya ends up pregnant while Raja drives off Kumar when Kumar is a little too flippant with his status. Typical man, running away when responsibility calls, right?

Now Maya is a single mum and she’s not just trying to survive on her own but must eat enough so that her milk flows for her baby. To get the nutrition she needs she has to take a few chances and brave monitor lizards, human settlements and the wrath of the sisters in order to keep her child fed. The whole tribe however faces incredible adversity when another tribe invades their home and pushes them out. With many of the males injured and the tribe displaced, it is surprisingly Maya who leads the tribe to steal food from the humans and lick their wounds until they are sufficiently recovered to make an attempt to take back their home.

Like most DisneyNature films, the animals are anthropomorphized so that kids can identify with them, which to Disney executives is crucial I suppose although I think the executives would be surprised by how kids would identify with the animals without having to resort to making them characters. That’s just me talking though.

What DisneyNature does right in a big way is the footage itself. Did you know monkeys can swim underwater? I didn’t until now, and watching them hunt for lily pad seed pods under water is literally breathtaking. We get vistas of the Sri Lankan jungle, beautiful sunsets, winged termites rising by the thousands becoming a flying feast for the monkeys and so much more. The footage is absolutely transfixing.

The monkey battles are handled tastefully, including the death of one of the monkeys. However, the vision of angry monkeys screeching and galloping into battle like golden brown cruise missiles might upset children of a sensitive nature. You know your child well enough to know whether or not they can handle it. In general I think most children can; as I said, it’s handled with sensitivity but be aware in any case.

Despite my complaint about turning the animals into Disney characters, I still look forward to the DisneyNature films every year. Not only are they incredible to watch but Disney makes a real effort to call attention to issues within the biodiversity of this wondrous planet of ours. They also contribute financially to organizations who help preserve habitats and save entire species, so one has to give respect for that, although I’d love to see them do a film on black rhinos who are nearly extinct. Maybe in 2017. In any case, if naturalist Jane Goodall puts her stamp of approval on a film about monkeys – and she has on this one – you really can’t argue with that.

REASONS TO GO: Incredible footage of monkeys and their environs. Teaches us a bit about our own culture.
REASONS TO STAY: The usual bugaboo about humanizing animals. May be a bit too violent for sensitive children.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming was done in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chimpanzee
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: True Story