Films I Neglected To Review: Back To The Whoring Bed
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/10/14 12:23:07
Please enjoy short reviews of "Dracula Untold," "Kill the Messenger" and "Nymphomaniac Uncut."
Seriously? Do I really need to explain to you at length that "Dracula Untold" is a bloodless bore of a movie that contain no scares, no memorably icky moments (thank you, PG-13 rating) and no point to its existence other than to exploit a instantly recognizable (and thankfully out-of-copyright) title by dumping virtually everything from it other than the main character and then creating a new and staggeringly uninteresting mythology around it? Do I really have to point out in detail the inherent silliness of producing a Dracula-related movie in which Dracula spends more time engaging in haphazardly-staged sword fights than he does biting people on the neck? Do you really need to know that as Dracula, Luke Evans fails to conjure up the fear, mystery and allure of your average trick-or-treater while Dominic Cooper (as the chief bad guy) and Sarah Gadon (as the chief cleavage supplier) just look embarrassed throughout? Do I really have to go into detail about the inadvertently hilarious final battle between Dracula and his enemy in which the later, knowing that vampires burn when they come into contact with silver, spends most of the time flinging coins at his opponent like a drunk in a casino at 3:00 AM? Do I have to mention that the cheap-jack look, the uninspired storyline (imagine the prologue to Francis Coppola's take stretched out to 90 minutes with nary a shred of the style or energy) and the infuriating epilogue (which has all the earmarks of a last-minute reshoot) makes the whole thing look like a busted pilot for a series produced for a cable channel that you thought you got rid of months ago? I don't? Okay, then why don't we just forget that this thing ever happened and move on--after all, everyone else will be doing just that in another week or two anyway.
"Kill the Messenger" tells the true-life story of Gary Webb, an investigative journalist for the San Jose Mercury News in the mid-90's who stumbled upon a once-in-a-lifetime story that both made him and eventually broke him as well. While working on an unrelated topic, he came into possession of documents indicating that during the 1980's, the CIA conspired with drug dealers to import huge amounts of cocaine into the U.S. to sell, mostly as crack in impoverished urban neighborhoods, and use the profits to help continue their illegal funding of the right-leaning Contras in Nicaragua in their battle for power against the leftist Sandinistas. Using this information as a leaping-off point, Webb came up with a series of explosive articles that rocked the corridors of power and made him a celebrity of sorts as well until a combination of some questionable aspects to his reportage and enormous pressure from those in positions of power helped to destroy his story, his reputation and his life in rapid succession.
It is an undeniably fascinating story that might have worked as a film if it had been told as either a straightforward documentary or as a jumbo-sized and insanely-detailed procedural along the lines of David Fincher's "Zodiac." Unfortunately, by trying to shoehorn all of the material into a conventional running time and into a narrative that is required to show the impact of the story on Webb's increasingly estranged relationship with his family, director Michael Cuesta is forced to rush through things too quickly and not even a good performance by Jeremy Renner as Webb and a strong supporting cast (including the likes of Oliver Platt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paz Vega, Tim Blake Nelson, Andy Garcia and, perhaps inevitably, Ray Liotta) are enough to quite make it worth watching. This isn't bad, per se, and I suppose those with a keen interest in the subject might find it worth checking out but considering how good it could have been considering the material and the people involved, I couldn't help but come away from it feeling a little disappointed.
Even though Lars von Trier's two-part, four-hour epic "Nymphomaniac" raised hackles throughout the world when it was released earlier this year do to its explicit sexual content and frankly bizarre storytelling, that was actually a watered-down version that was put together for the international market without von Trier's participation. Now, at last, von Trier's original vision can be seen in braver theaters and on VOD in "Nymphomaniac Uncut," a mammoth-sized work that presents it at the director intended--in one massive gulp, as it were, with over 90 minutes of previously unseen footage included in the narrative to boost it up to a solid 5 1/2 hours of movie going. The basic premise is the same--after being rescued by a timid mathematician (Stellan Skarsgard) after a savage beating in an alley, a self-professed nymphomaniac (played as an adult by Charlotte Gainsbourg and in her younger years by newcomer Stacy Martin) recounts her long and twisted sexual history in jaw-dropping detail--but the additional footage (roughly 30 minutes in the first part and more than an hour in the second) brings a lot of new stuff to the table.
There is even more sexual material than before, of course, and of a far more graphic nature (with scenes like the oral sex-on-the-train in Part I and the mixed-race three-way in Part II elaborated on in eye-opening ways) but there are many new scenes of pure character development that help deepen our understanding of our heroine and why she is how she is. The addition likely to cause the most controversy is an extended and extremely painful sequence in which Gainsbourg gives herself an abortion that, while presented in the most serious manner possible, will probably prove to be well nigh impossible for most audiences to endure. (Needless to say, the most memorable sequence from the original version--Uma Thurman's knockout turn as a cheated-on wife who, with her kids in tow, bursts in on her husband and his lover and asks to see "the whoring bed"--has not been expanded in any way.) Those who didn't like or who never even got around to seeing "Nymphomaniac" the first time around are advised to give it a pass--the former will find nothing about it that will change their opinion and it will prove to be too much of a jump in the deep end for the latter. However, those who did enjoy the previous edition may find it of interest for the ways in which it takes one of the most audacious films of the year and proceeds to make it even more so.