I Spit on Your Grave (2010, a remake of a 1978 film) will turn most people off. There’s rape, there’s murder. It’s exploitation, and it’s not pretty. And you might think of it as a low-grade B movie, but not so fast. This is a good movie. Not great, and not always believable, but it’s got flow. You keep expecting cheesiness but it never arrives; the production values keep it above its B-movie provenance.
As I wrote in “Riveting Rentals”:
I Spit on Your Grave (2010) continues along this vein, except now, instead of a couple, we are presented with a single, attractive young lady who thinks it a good idea to spend some time in a ramshackle backwood for a little peace and quiet. Why make it difficult for the local folk — just give them a single, defenseless, unattached woman. Though this movie begins with the basic plot lines of Straw Dogs and The Last House on the Left, this one differs in that it is a revenge flick, which can be kinda fun.
Jeannette Catsoulis, the Times:
Female-empowerment fantasy or just plain prurience, “Grave” is extremely efficient grindhouse. If there is any message here at all, it’s don’t mess with a novelist: being creative is her job.
It’s no mystery whether or not you’ll like this movie. Watch the preview. If you choose to watch, I Spit on Your Grave could be deeply satisfying. Available on iTunes.
Comparison Notes: Straw Dogs, Saw, Eden Lake, Last House on the Left
Sort of a super-fly, super-ghetto, Superbad – Risky Business – Boyz n the Hood mashup, Dope is a lot of fun. The second half suffers a little from clichés and lagginess that only the most deft films can avoid, but this is a refreshing entrant on the current movie scene. 7/10
iTunes: select “Trailer 2”
The long-running PBS series Frontline is consistently excellent. Even if you don’t think you’re interested in the subject matter, you should always catch it – it’s that good. Besides top-rate journalism and filmmaking equal to the task, the narration by Will Lyman pushes it over the top. It’s surprising that you don’t hear him in more places than Frontline and the Dos Equis spots.
Frontline’s look into solitary confinement paralleled Hot Girls Wanted in that each followed a group of individuals on a progression generally from a bad situation to a worse one. But unlike Hot Girls Wanted, Frontline has a much better handle on how to tell those stories. Recommended; available online (select “Solitary Nation”) or via PBS apps.
Hot Girls Wanted documents the “amateur porn” industry by following a few girls who are chewed up and spit out by it. Though the subject matter is powerful stuff, the filmmaking is fairly mundane, like reality television gone explicit. As the situation steadily devolves for the ‘actors,’ the movie becomes more compelling in its intimate portraits, enough so that I was tending toward a marginal recommendation.
Then the following night I watched the Frontline episode on solitary confinement within US prisons (see next post) and was reminded of what good documentary filmmaking is like. It helps to have a good narrator instead of just throwing text on the screen.
I will credit Hot Girls Wanted for sparking this thought: how twisted is it that prostitution is illegal, yet porn — which can be much worse — is perfectly legal? 5/10
Ever-rising star Julia Garner fits well in cultish settings: Electrick Children, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and now We Are What We Are, whose Rotten Tomatoes consensus reads:
A compelling story cleverly told, We Are What We Are quenches horror buffs’ thirst for gore while serving up serious-minded filmmaking and solid acting.
Indeed. Among the generally top-notch moviemaking is a bit of awkwardness and a pacing problem — the movie does not feel like it is moving slowly per se, but neither does it stir itself along the way one could expect given the underlying plot, especially in the first half. We Are What We Are is no Martha Marcy May Marlene, but it’s still worthwhile. Available via Netflix and iTunes rental. And look for Kelly McGillis — she’s a long way off from Top Gun and Witness. 7/10
The Rotten Tomatoes consensus (87% among top critics):
As unconventional and unwieldy as the life and legacy it honors, Love & Mercy should prove moving for Brian Wilson fans while still satisfying neophytes.
True, except the part about neophytes. As ubiquitous as Beach Boys music has been in the past, if you don’t have a general familiarity with the band don’t expect to find it here. Love & Mercy focuses on the life of Brian Wilson in the latter stages of his involvement with the Beach Boys, and on a sour period years after departing it. The obvious comparison brought to my mind was Shine. Not showing the Beach Boys’ rise to fame is one of the ‘unconventional’ choices the film makes, and there are others.
Normally I celebrate fresh approaches in movies, but Brian Wilson’s story is so powerful that it speaks for itself. Though there are flashes of brilliance, the film too often bobbles the ball and has trouble getting out of its own way. I would classify it as a not entirely confident or accomplished approach. Nonetheless, performances are good, and the story strong enough to pass through. Love & Mercy is good, even great at times. But its lack of vision as a whole film stops it from being wholly great. Between Shine and Love & Mercy, I’ll take Shine. 7/10
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A Note on the actors: Kudos to Elizabeth Banks on a job well done here. I became enamored of Banks with her supporting but pivotal role in the exceptionally underrated psychological drama The Uninvited. And if I don’t get around to a separate post, 2015 will forever be known as the year of Paul Giamatti.
My fear that Colbert might lose some cachet at the new gig has been assuaged. Read about his internet presence at the Times.