Fairytale (Favola)


An All-American housewife.

(2017) Comedy (Breaking GlassFilippo Timi, Lucia Mascino, Piera Degli Esposti, Luca Santagostino, Sergio Albelli. Directed by Sebastiano Mauri

 

The Fifties were a decade here in the United States that in many ways symbolizes a kinder, gentler era; everyone liked Ike, prosperity after the war was undeniable and so long as you were white and straight, you had a pretty decent life just about guaranteed. America was indeed, the beautiful back then.

Mrs. Fairytale (Timi) lives in a bright, modern home that is packed to the gills with kitsch and alcohol. Her husband (Santasostino) leaves for work every morning, leaving her to clean house, cook dinner, commiserate with fellow housewife Mrs. Emerald (Mascino) and adore her poodle Lady (pronounced “Lye-dee” in this Italian-language film) who happens to be stuffed. She also spends time fending off the Stuart triplets (Albelli), all of whom want to get into her panties by hook or by crook – the movie doesn’t hesitate to get into the darker side of the decade, including spousal abuse and alcoholism.

That’s not the only thing that’s off-kilter in this comedy, in which the view out of one set of windows is a New York-like skyline and out another set, a Southwestern desert. Mrs. Fairytale is played in drag by Timi, who also co-wrote the adaptation of his original play; the director is his husband, Mauri who is making his feature directing debut.

Many critics are hailing that the lead role in drag is played by a gay man, which makes for a better understanding of the drag queen culture. I will be honest; I’m not so sure the role is meant to be a drag queen; the oddball story involves invading UFOs who may or may not have changed Mrs. Fairytale’s sex from feminine to masculine. The role is not meant to be an object of fun, like so many drag roles in mainstream movies tend to be, but is meant to be a matter-of-fact depiction of a male actor in a female role. Of late we’ve seen some female actresses playing male characters; I don’t see why the favor shouldn’t be returned.

The movie keeps you off-balance from beginning to end in the most delightful way, all the while remaining true to its aesthetic, and what an aesthetic it is – the production design by Dmitri Capuani is absolutely pitch-perfect, setting the tone for the movie’s eccentric plot, while the set décor by Alessia Anfuso is to die for – I know a lot of devotees of Fifties kitsch culture will be jealous. The costumes by Fabio Zambernardi are positively sumptuous and will have those who love hunting for vintage dressing in thrift stores positively green with envy.

Not everybody is going to love this. It is admittedly willfully weird, but then again, who doesn’t need a little weirdness every now and again, particularly now when confusion is the new normal. If there’s an objection to be had about this delightful film, it’s that it is awfully stagey, even though I think that it intentional on the filmmakers’ part. Still, it feels sometimes like you’re waiting for the rest of the audience to react and that’s not a good thing when you’re watching this while cloistered at home. Fans of LGBTQ cinema should definitely seek this out, but anyone out for a good laugh in a bizarre kitschy atmosphere should love this too.

REASONS TO SEE: Willfully strange and imaginative. Wonderful production design.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not everyone will get this.
FAMILY VALUES: There are sexual situations and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is an adaptation of a play originally written by Timi.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Fandango Now, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Serial Mom
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Mule

Widows (2018)


Dangerous deeds discussed in dark places.

(2018) Crime (20th Century) Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Brian Tyree Henry, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Manuel Garcia-Ruffo, Lukas Haas, Coburn Goss, Alejandro Verdin, Molly Kunz, James Vincent Meredith, Patrese McClain. Directed by Steve McQueen

Viola Davis is one of America’s most underrated actresses and that considering that she has been nominated for an Oscar three times and won once (for Fences). So when I tell you that this might be the best performance of her career, and it wasn’t even one of the three nominated films on her resume, that might speak volumes about how the system

She plays Veronica, the widow of Harry (Neeson) who was butchered along with his crew after a job. As it turns out though, he stole two million bucks from a ruthless gangster (Henry) who happens to be running for Chicago alderman as the opponent of Jack Mulligan (Farrell), the son of a politician who together have been essentially running the Ward for decades. Now, with the gangster’s psychopathic brother (Kaluuya) hot on her trail, she knows she must resort tto literally using her husband’s playbook to pull off a much larger heist that will pay his debts in full and set her up for life, but she’ll need help. She figures the widows of Harry’s crew have both the motivation and the skills.

Oscar-winning director McQueen has assembled a cast that is without parallel. In fact, he might have done his job too well; the film is crammed full of interesting characters who all need more screen time than they got, so we end up with scenes that run too long and characters that overstay their record. A little less focus on the other characters would have made this a better film.

McQueen uses the city of Chicago perfect effect, whether in the mansion of Jack’s dad (Duvall) or in Veronica’s beautiful apartment overlooking Lake Michigan, or in the poorest corners of the largely African-American Ward, the movie is always interesting in a visual sense. The movie doesn’t have the humor that is usually found in heist films nor does it have that clever “we outsmarted you” gotcha that most heist films possess. This is far more brutal and direct. It works as a heist film, but it works even better as  a commentary on how wide the gulf between haves and have-nots has become.

REASONS TO SEE: A tremendous cast with Davis standing out particularly. McQueen has a great visual sense.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit long and a few too many characters.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity throughout, a fair amount of violence and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Olivia the dog, who is heavily featured in the film, also appeared in Game Night.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Max Go, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/22/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews, Metacritic: 84/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Kitchen
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Himalayan Ice

Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku)


Going for that five-fingered discount.

(2018) Drama (Magnolia) Lily Franky, Sakura Andō, Kirin Kiki, Mayu Matsuoka, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki, Sōsuke Ikematsu, Yûki Yamada, Moemi Katayama, Daisuke Kuroda, Kazuaki Shimizu, Izumi Matsuoka, Katsuya Maiguma, Hajime Inoue, Aju Makita, Akira Emoto, Haruna Hori, Momoko Miyauchi, Mami Hashimto, Nobu Morimoto, Mana Mikami. Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

 

The family unit is the backbone of most human cultures. Woe be unto those who mess with the family; communist regimes in Russia and China tried it without success. But what is it about families that make them so necessary? Can we teach our children morality if we ourselves are less-than-moral? Can we have a loving family in non-traditional groupings?

The Shibata family is what you would call the working poor. Father Osamu (Franky) is a day laborer; mother Nobuyo (Andō) works in an industrial laundry. Auntie Aki (Matsuoka) is a hostess in a peep show, dressing like a school girl and performing sexual acts for lonely men watching behind two-way mirrors. Grandmother Hatsue (Kiki) chips in with her pension check and their son Shota (Kairi) helps out in the family business. What is the family business? Shoplifting.

Osamu and Shota go to local supermarkets and pick up what necessities the family needs via the five-fingered discount. The family can’t afford to put enough food on the table, so they supplement their income as best they can. On the way home from such a trip, Osamu and Shota come upon a little girl named Yuri (Sasaki) hiding under a balcony in a neighboring apartment building. It is an insanely cold night and the girl, already hungry and scared, will certainly not survive the night if left out there. Good-hearted Osamu brings the girl home. Hatsue discovers evidence of abuse on the little girl, but Nobuyo is adamant that the girl be returned to her parents. When they arrive, Osamu and Nobuyo hear a violent fight going on between the parents. Nobuyo at last relents and the girl is brought home, unofficially adopted by the Shibata clan.

It’s not kidnapping, explains Osamu, because they aren’t demanding a ransom. Besides, the little girl has found herself in a loving family that takes care of one another and despite their financial straits, they still manage to enjoy life to the fullest. Shota even deigns to teach the newest Shibata the family trade. However, the idyllic situation can’t last long; things begin to unravel and the secrets at the core of the Shibata family are revealed at last.

The last half hour of the film is a total tonal shift from the first hour and a half, and quite frankly, it was a bit too much for my taste, although I am aware that a lot of critics found that shift to be the best thing about the film. As they say, your mileage may vary.

But this is a very good film, a look at how the working poor survive day t day in Japan, how the bond within a family is maintained even when the grey areas are a bit more widespread than normal. Despite the fact that they steal and scam, the Shibata family to a man (and woman) are good-hearted people who genuinely care for one another. There is almost no judgement going on, which is rare in a family. They accept each other and love each other for who they are. A lot of morally straight families could benefit from instruction from the Shibata family.

Good performances throughout are at the forefront; there are some truly heartbreaking moments and some truly joyous ones as well. Cinematographer Ryûto Kondō makes good use of every shot; there is a lot happening in every frame which means that additional viewings of the film will yield more treasure.

This is very much one of the best films from 2018 and would have gotten a higher rating from me had I liked the ending more. I will say that it is imaginative and will come at you from out of nowhere, which is what I think some folks like about it. I suspect that I will like this movie more the next time I watch it. If so, that’s the mark of a truly great film experience.

REASONS TO SEE: Thought-provoking on the nature of families. Moral dilemma isn’t an easy one to dismiss..
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is a bit of a letdown.
FAMILY VALUES: There is sexuality and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Won the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, the first Japanese film to do so since 1997.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, FlixFling, Google Play, Hoopla, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/21/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 99% positive reviews, Metacritic: 93/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Our Little Sister
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Tombstone Rashomon

Sinister 2


Bughuul reminds us there's no talking in the theater or else he sends these kids after you.

Bughuul reminds us there’s no talking in the theater or else he sends these kids after you.

(2015) Horror (Gramercy) James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Lea Coco, Tate Ellington, John Beasley, Lucas Jade Zumarin, Jaden Klein, Laila Haley, Caden M. Fritz, Olivia Rainey, Nicholas King, Michael B. Woods, Tory O. Davis, Howie Johnson, Grace Holuby, John Francis Mountain, Nicole Santini. Directed by Ciarán Foy

There are monsters in this world; people who beat their wives, their children. People who create an atmosphere of fear, all so they can feel like a big man. One can run away from monsters like that; but then there’s no running away from the demons that follow you.

Courtney Collins (Sossamon) has separated from her husband with the intention of divorcing him. He is an abusive, evil man who has turned her twin sons Dylan (R.D. Sloan) and Zach (D. Sloan) into a terrified, nightmare-ridden boy (the former) and a mean, spiteful kid (the latter). She has found an old farmhouse with a de-consecrated church in the yard.

What she doesn’t know is that the house was the scene of a horrible crime in which an entire family was slaughtered – chained to the church floor and eaten alive by rats – with the young son missing. Investigating the crime is a Detective (Ransone) who was once a Deputy investigating a similar crime in the first Sinister. It weighs heavily on his mind that he couldn’t save his friend Ellison Oswalt and his family from the same fate; in fact, he was accused and later acquitted of the heinous crime, although he lost his job over it.

Now he has made it his mission to stop the demon Bughuul who is responsible for these murders. Bughuul, through the lost children he abducts, influences a child in a family moving into the home where one of these murders occurs to become his minion; when the family moves out, the child films the gruesome murders he commits. Afterwards, Bughuul takes his soul to join his legion of lost children.

Now the kids are after Dylan, showing him the murder films which stop the nightmares. The Detective is unnerved to find people living in the house – he’d been told it was vacant and had plans to burn it to the ground, stopping the demon’s reign of terror. He grows attracted to Courtney and the feeling is mutual. But with her ex Clinton (Coco) hot on her trail and hell bent on taking the kids back home with him, with no judge or law enforcement official in rural Indiana willing to stand up to the wealthy Clinton, Courtney is caught between hell and a hard place – literally.

Although a sequel pretty much to the first Sinister, this has little in common with the first film. No Ethan Hawke, for one thing – Sossamon is the biggest name in the cast which helps keep the costs low and the profit margin high. Scott Derrickson, who directed the original, is still on board as co-writer and producer but it is Irish director Foy, who has a nifty thriller called The Citadel to his credit, in the chair here.

The first film was incredibly creepy; the atmosphere was much more intense than it is here. There is more a Children of the Corn vibe which is said to be on purpose; Foy had wanted the film to be a tribute to the Stephen King story which spawned a plethora of cinematic stinkers – and has a lot in common thematically with both of the Sinister films. While some might find the homespun Indiana cornfield look frightening, it doesn’t quite do it for me personally.

Ransone does, though. Moving from a background comedy relief character to genuine horror hero, we get the kind of hero we can all get behind; he’s not brawny or a particularly good fighter (he gets beaten up at least twice during the film) but he is smart and sympathetic. He’s a nice guy whom we fear is going to finish last.

The movie’s subtext having to do with abusive husbands/fathers is welcome. Often the physical abuse is given as a reason as why abused kids turn into psychotic serial killers but here it is shown as terrifying as anything the demon can conjure up; there’s a scene where the Collins family is having dinner and Clinton eats first while the others sit in frightened silence, awaiting the signal that they can eat. It’s as stark and scary a scene in any horror movie this year. Sadly, none of the Bughuul stuff can equal it.

Part of the problem is that the kid actors in the movie who take up most of the screen time range from adequate to hard to watch. A movie like this by necessity requires a good number of child actors and that’s a double edged sword; if you can get good ones, it ratchets up the fear factor. If not, it can make your film look amateurish. It doesn’t quite sink to that level, but it certainly isn’t elevated by the performances of the children. And that’s not a knock on the kids, mind you – I don’t think it’s for lack of effort on their part, but they do have an awful lot of burden on their shoulders and that might be a little too much to ask of them.

Another issue I had with the movie is the various snuff films. The death scenes are so elaborate that to a large extent they aren’t believable. Sure, the kids are being helped by a demonic presence but it doesn’t feel like a kid could come up with these complex killing methods, ranging from putting a family on crucifixes and burning them alive to hanging them upside down above a swamp where alligators take their heads off. Gruesome fun to be sure, but not believable gruesome fun.

Even despite the deficiencies this ends up with a slightly higher rating than the first Sinister, largely because the ending of the first one was such a stinker. The ending here is a lot better; and while Bughuul is not the terrifying monster that maybe this franchise needs, the movie is scary enough in a white bread kind of way that it makes the movie worth checking out.

REASONS TO GO: Fairly creepy. Ransone steps up nicely. Like the inclusion of the abusive father.
REASONS TO STAY: Children of the Corn vibe doesn’t work. The filmed death scenes too elaborate. Overreliance on kid actors.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, much of it gruesome; bloody and disturbing images, and some fairly foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The only returning characters from the first film are Bughuul himself and the Detective, who in the first film was Deputy So & So (he never gets a name); here he is Detective So & So.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/30/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 12% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Insidious
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Mistress America

Get On Up


The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

(2014) Musical Biography (Universal) Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer, Josh Hopkins, Brandon Smith, Tika Sumpter, Aunjanue Ellis, Tariq Trotter, Aloe Blacc, Keith Robinson, Atkins Eastmond, Jamarion Scott, Jordan Scott, Stacey Scowley, Ahna O’Reilly. Directed by Tate Taylor

James Brown has never really gotten his due other than by his peers and true music buffs. He never achieved the sales that one would assume that someone who revolutionized pop music should have gotten, and yet when you look at the latter half of the 20th century, the most influential figures to come out of it are the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and James Brown. He is the most-sampled artist in history, and virtually every song on your digital music storage device owes something to James Brown.

Before he was the legendary Godfather of Soul, James Brown (Boseman) was a young boy in rural Georgia. Abandoned by his mother Susie (Davis) at a young age and raised primarily by his alcoholic father Joe (James), he was dropped off with Aunt Honey (Spencer) who ran a brothel. There he grew up huckstering the house of ill repute for African-American soldiers coming into town on weekend passes, and going to the local church to listen to gospel music and watch the ecstasy of dance.

While in jail for stealing a suit, he met Bobby Byrd (Ellis) who led a group called the Gospel Starlighters. Byrd would end up bringing James home and bringing the talented young singer into their group which he would eventually rename the Famous Flames. A demo of the song “Please, Please, Please” ended up in the hands of promoter Ben Bart (Aykroyd) and label owner Syd Nathan (Melamed). Whereas Nathan never really got Brown’s music, Ben recognized that the sounds coming from the single were unique; it’s not about the song, he tries to explain to Nathan who never really gets it.

Brown was something of a control freak and he rebelled at playing along with the status quo. He dealt with venues directly rather than going through a promoter, bringing Bart aboard as an advisor and business manager, allowing him to retain a larger share of the gate at his shows. He is Mr. Entertainment, priding himself on putting on the best shows for his audience and giving everything he had night after night. People began to listen.

Success breeds excess however. Brown would become a drug addict although the movie glosses over this somewhat which would lead to legal troubles that plagued the latter half of his life. He could be mean and abusive which wreaked havoc not only in his personal life but also alienated many of those musicians whose talents helped elevate him to where he was. He demanded absolute control but as Byrd pointed out, he was a genius and it was on his coattails that his band would achieve legendary status but his demeaning treatment of them alienated them.

Taylor opts for an achronological telling of Brown’s story, starting out in 1988, jumping back to 1968 (good God!) and back again to 1939 and up forward 1955. Flashbacks within flashbacks, you might say. Writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth group events in his life thematically rather than chronologically, headlining them with nicknames he would acquire during his career – The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Dynamite. and so on. For the most part this works although some of the transitions between time periods are less smooth than others and the linking devices occasionally take us out of the story and make us realize we’re watching someone directing a movie. That’s a big no-no.

Boseman is absolutely incredible here. Richard Corliss of Time magazine has all but handed the Oscar to Boseman and while that may be premature, I do hope that his performance still remains in the memory of Academy members come nomination time. He certainly deserves consideration. While the vocals here are Brown, Boseman not only gets his mannerisms correctly he also manages to recreate Brown’s unique stage movement and presence. It’s a performance that really carries the movie and necessarily so.

Ellis also does a fine job as Byrd, the closest thing to a friend Brown has. Although their relationship was rocky, there was also genuine affection between the two. Ellis and Boseman have a strong chemistry which doesn’t really get enough credit. While this is definitely Boseman’s film, it wouldn’t be as strong without Ellis.

While the movie doesn’t hesitate to portray Brown as a difficult man to get along with, there’s a sense that they’re trying too hard to make a mythology about the man and that sometimes comes off like a child whining too much for recognition. Rather than have him appear to be thinking back on his life before – and sometimes during – his performances, those flashbacks could have been framed differently and more organically rather than framing Brown in heroic poses. We get that he was a genius and don’t need to have his mythic qualities shoved down our throats.

A great biography of James Brown is long overdue and while this isn’t the great film I would have hoped it would be, it is nonetheless a strong movie made stronger by the performances of Boseman and Byrd, along with Aykroyd as a kind of Jewish father figure/rabbi to Brown. Brown was in the eyes of many the personification of Black Power during one of the most turbulent times in our history and while he himself was more concerned with making money entertaining his audiences, he did embrace the importance of black culture and black empowerment in his art and in his life. For most, this will be the closest thing to witnessing a performance by James Brown as they will ever come (although there are many clips of his performances available online and of course some of his concert films available for purchase or streaming) but even Boseman’s performance doesn’t duplicate the raw, sweaty power of a live James Brown performance. His legacy is not just in the records he made but in the millions who fell under his spell at his concerts. You wouldn’t be wrong if you argued that he was the greatest live performer in the history of pop music.

REASONS TO GO: Awesome music. Boseman makes a formidable James Brown.

REASONS TO STAY: Era jumping smacks of “Look Ma, I’m Directing.” Over-mythologizes.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of sexual content, drug use and foul language as well as a couple of instances of violence in the form of child and spousal abuse.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Aykroyd appeared with the real James Brown in The Blues Brothers while Ellis appeared with Brown in Undercover Brother.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/8/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ray

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Guardians of the Galaxy

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

Jolene


Jolene

Jessica Chastain looks pretty in too much make-up said no-one ever.

(2008) Drama (EntertainmentOne) Jessica Chastain, Frances Farmer, Dermot Mulroney, Zeb Newman, Chazz Palminteri, Denise Richards, Theresa Russell, Michael Vartan, Shannon Whirry, Drea Pruseau, Rupert Friend, Sherry Leigh, Amy Landers. Directed by Dan Ireland

 

Most people are fully aware of the Biblical story of Job. You remember, the guy who had all sorts of things thrown at him on a bet between God and the Devil. They wanted to see how long he’d remain faithful to the Lord and Good Old Job stayed faithful despite losing everything. Good Job, Job.

The truth is that when real people are beset by numerous catastrophes of Biblical proportions, they tend to grow cynical and bitter. They lose faith in everything and everyone. They become hardened and often their outlook makes them difficult to be around. Of course there are exceptions.

Jolene (Chastain) is an orphan who gets married far too young to Mickey (Newman) who means well but is weak. The young couple move in with Mickey’s Uncle Phil (Mulroney) who takes a liking to Jolene and she to him. The two take to fornicatin’ and are sadly discovered by Aunt Kay (Russell) who as a conservative Christian woman doesn’t cotton much to infidelity and throws the young girl out on her ear, which eventually leads to tragedy. The vengeful Kay sees to it that Jolene ends up in juvenile detention where a counselor named Cindy (Farmer) who happens to be a lesbian, also succumbs to Jolene’s charms and helps her escape.

Jolene makes her way to Arizona where she takes up with a tattoo artist with the unlikely name of Coco Leger (Friend) who is also a drug dealer. To nobody’s surprise that ends up badly so Jolene makes her way to Las Vegas and finds work as an exotic dancer. She catches the eye of Sal (Palminteri), a Vegas businessman who falls head over heels for Jolene and looks to be the one to treat her nicely and with respect. Sadly, Sal’s got problems with the mob. So long, Sal.

Next stop, Tulsa where Jolene hooks up with Brad (Vartan) who is a millionaire. He’s also a religious nutcase and an abuser of women. Can Jolene break out of this pattern of bad choices or is it just a matter of bad luck?

This tale of woe is based on a short story by noted author E.L. Doctorow (who also penned Ragtime and The Book of Daniel among other) which was in turn inspired by Dolly Parton’s song “Jolene.” In all fairness the story is basically a means of explaining how the red-haired seductress of Parton’s song got to be that way but the movie really isn’t into making excuses for Jolene. She is where she is because she makes some hideously bad choices and doesn’t learn from them. Which, also to be honest, is true of most of us.

The movie is notable as being Jessica Chastain’s debut and she is quite frankly the reason to see it at all. Her performance here is electric and mesmerizing; yes you can see that Jolene is a train wreck but Chastain makes her a sympathetic train wreck. She makes Jolene a memorable woman, feisty and artistically talented but simply lacking in sense.

While there are some pretty strong performers here for the most part the performances are surprisingly vapid outside of Chastain. Mulroney and Farmer are usually pretty reliable as is the handsome Michael Vartan; they don’t disgrace themselves but they don’t really distinguish themselves either.

Part of the problem is that the script reads as melodrama. You half expect Snidely Whiplash to come leaping out with a “Nyah ah ah,” fingering his moustache as he prepares to tie poor Jolene to the train tracks. I get that Jolene had a really hard life. I get that as a woman, she suffered terrible exploitation. I also get that she made choices that screwed her over. But does it have to be hammered into the viewer repeatedly? It isn’t a plot point so much as an assault.

This is a movie that sat two years on the shelf before making the festival circuit and another two years before hitting its theatrical release. That usually bodes ill for a movie, even at the independent level. Other than Chastain who is almost in another, better movie (and very clearly carries this one) there isn’t a lot to recommend this film for but certainly if you’re into mesmerizing performances from young actresses, this one fits that bill.

WHY RENT THIS: Chastain’s first movie and she’s amazing in it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overly melodramatic. Perhaps a little too much is thrown Jolene’s way.

FAMILY VALUES: The sexuality here is very rampant with lots of frank discussion, graphic nudity and of course sex scenes. There’s also some bad language and a bit of drug use, not to mention a little violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jolene debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival which director Dan Ireland is co-founder of.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A gag reel is included.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monster

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Lincoln