The Mechanic – 3*

This may well be a remake of the classic 1972 Michael Winner film that had the rather grander US title of ‘Killer of Killers’, and starred mean machine Charles Bronson, but when The Mechanic has Jason Statham in the lead, it’s another Transporter film, whichever way you (cynically) look at it. Good news for Statham fans, and fans of shoot/blow-em-up kung-fu-lery because it has all those exciting and well-staged elements done in an erratic and on-the-clock fashion, leaving out important plot-developments along the way, as though they’re irrelevant because the Statham stunt choreography and physique will distract any nitpickers.

Statham manhandles a film and makes it his own, with sheer power, muscles, guts and steely-eyed determination. The fact that the actor does all his own stunts makes his projects even more inviting to watch. However, Simon West’s 2011 remake that stars Statham in the Bronson role of crack assassin Arthur Bishop seems to make some plot elements implausible, such as how Bishop first gets away, unscathed, in his opening assassination scene – and how he got in position in the first place in such a guarded fortress of a home? Indeed, he must survive for there to be a film, but sometimes a scene, even in this type of genre, needs to breathe to let all the factors and believability settle into place. West seems too impatient to allow that, or his editor just got a bit chop-happy.

This film does have an extremely appealing cast, though, co-starring the magnetic Ben Foster and legendary Donald Sutherland – the latter of whom, admittedly, is only in it as wheel-chair-dependent spook Harry McKenna for a brief period. The combination of Statham and Foster as Harry’s wayward son and new killer protégé, Steve, makes for a thrilling one, even before he steps on the scene. Foster equals unhinged and risqué in pretty much every character he’s known for, always making for an exhilarating ride. And he doesn’t disappoint in this, having a wail of a time getting his hands dirty and smeared with blood. In fact, his ‘gay’ initiation scene and subsequent killing sprees, along with mentor Bishop manage to upstage the ‘man of action’ Statham. But for those familiar with the original, Bishop does get his own back – and Statham for that matter on Foster’s screen dominance – with the car scene that serves cold justice on Steve.

There is little else to comment on, for fear of revealing all the plot elements. But as a grittier popcorn action flick with Statham at the helm, it’s as good as any other he’s done to cement his reputation in this kind of role. With Foster in the frame, it’s a wanton frenzy that should come with a hazard warning, both physically and psychologically, even though West tries to show the subtleties and ‘planning’ that each kill takes, and the after effects on the killers. Boys and their big toys instantly springs to mind, so ramping up the action, and forsaking a bit of credibility, may seem like a copout, but it’s an enjoyable one all the same, albeit, hardly groundbreaking as action films go.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Barney’s Version – 4*

Thankfully, Paul Giamatti won Best Actor Golden Globe for Barney’s Version, considering the shameful overlook at the Oscar nominations. ‘Best Achievement in Makeup’ nod for Adrien Morot perhaps, but Giamatti is pure dramedy gold as impulsive, self-depreciating and sarcastic love saboteur, Barney Panofsky. This film touches all the right notes and offers some highly animated and memorable performances. It is a character-driven and guaranteed side-tickler of a tale, punctuated with poignant moments of reflection along the way.

Barney is a man who marries the wrong woman, twice. His third wife is the love of his life – the meeting of which will make you howl with delight. But he still denies himself any happiness and in turn, destroys his chances of domestic bliss. After the mysterious disappearance of his best friend Boogie, for which he is the prime murder suspect, he decides to tell his version of events, after a cop-turned-writer publishes a novel trying to finger him for the crime years before. Justice takes a different turn in the end, when Barney answers to his maker, earlier than expected.

Based on controversial Canadian writer Mordecai Richler’s book of the same name, Barney’s Version is classic tale of redemption, verging on self-destruction – when viewed from the protagonist’s perspective. Everybody loves a tragic fool; especially one who cannot see when going is good. Giamatti plays the brow-beaten, serial monogamist Barney to subtle but dynamic perfection, reflecting off the array of stellar supporting talent that includes a delightful turn by Dustin Hoffman as his un-PC, ex-cop father, Izzy, who is like a hormonal teen run wild, and Minnie Driver, the motor-mouthed, second ‘Mrs P’, his demanding ‘Jewish Princess’. It is a contemporary comedy of errors, all imagined by the one person, that will make you laugh out loud and well up, too.

The serious note begins as Barney starts acting strangely and being forgetful, leading to a sensitive and moving portrayal of senile dementia. In turn, we begin to understand and appreciate Barney’s more shocking and terrifying turns, as well as his warped sense of being. It becomes a tearjerker as his long-suffering wife, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), tries unsuccessfully to reach out before it is too late, but not before Barney has you revelling in his exuberant existence and erratic ways. The deadpan and downplayed reactions that Giamatti delivers with aplomb counterbalance the theatrics of those around him, until Barney erupts at points to show his is still very much alive and kicking against an invisible resistance of his own creation.

The only unconvincing part of the whole affair is the rather strange casting of Brit Mark Addy as the hound-dog cop/author and Barney’s nemesis, Detective O’Hearne that seems a little odd, and creates the weakest casting link in the chain.

Nevertheless, Giamatti is on true form here, as with his lead performances in Duplicity and Cold Souls. That said Barney is more accessible a character than before, and less quirky, which will hopefully expose the Giamatti magic and self-ridicule to a wider audience. Barney’s Version is a good-spirited hoot-a-minute and warms you like a good tonic on a cold day.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Tangled – 4*

The story of Rapunzel is a time-old tale about a girl with lengthy golden hair who is imprisoned in a tower by a wicked sorceress, until a passing prince hears her singing and rescues her. Once upon a time, Disney would have kept firmly to the original script.

But times have changed, and like many fairy tales that have been spruced up for the contemporary audience, Tangled tweaks the tale so that Rapunzel is no shrinking violent with a magical mane, and her prince is a thieving scallywag called Flynn who stubbles upon her tower, whilst trying to flee the law after a jewel heist. Even though it sounds like Disney has killed all the innocence, it still has its charm, and is all done with a tasteful and healthy dosage of good humour that’s geared towards adults and kids, hence makes for great family viewing.

Tangled is yet another excuse for charging 3D ticket prices, though, enough to break the bank. To be honest, nothing is lost if the story is seen in 2D as there’s enough to keep everyone entertained. Disney has also retained the look and feel of its beloved hand-drawn style but tonally fleshed it out with the latest wizardry to give it depth, even without the 3D. That said the dreamy scene in the boat between Rapunzel and Flynn is certainly more powerful in 3D, with the technology put to good effect to draw audiences further into the scenery and the tale. There is also a stunning use of light, too, like a symbol of hope and enlightenment to all, especially Rapunzel and her coming of age.

Thankfully, unlike recent animations (Princess and the Frog, for example), there are no talking animals, therefore, no reason to have teeth-grindingly annoying B-list comedians lending their voices, and thinking they’re funny. The animals still have humanistic qualities and expressions, including Rapunzel’s companion and guardian chameleon, and a proud and by-the-book horse called Maximus who matches the wit and strength of any human counterpart, and provides many surprising laughs as he kicks Flynn into touch, before watching his back.

The evil Gothel still hampers after the magical flower, but his time it’s given to the dying Queen, and its power past onto infant Rapunzel from birth, and into her wayward hair, providing the hag with a reason to abduct the child and harvest the hair’s youthful spell. Ulterior motive aside, Gothel is portrayed as an overbearing and smothering mother in Tangled who cannot cut the apron strings, and is also sinisterly competitive and jealous of her ‘child’s’ youth, beauty and future opportunities. It’s an intriguing analogy that will hit home with some watching.

Fairy tales are there to be adapted, as long as the crux of the original is still beating at its core. Tangled is one such film, and with its contemporary colourful characters and enjoyable tunes will win over many once more, like the story did the first time around.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

LFF: Biutiful – 4*

Javier Bardem receiving a Best Actor Oscar nod for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s haunting Biutiful, after his Cannes Film Festival Best Actor triumph was hardly a great revelation to most. The haunting film in true woeful Iñárritu style, and one set for the first time in his native Spain, is a definite awards contender by any stretch of the imagination, featuring a career-defining moment for Bardem to play to his strengths.

Incredibly moving and all consuming, Biutful is a bold and courageous take on the shadier side of Barcelona living, minus all the glamorous prestige that the European city usually gets. Although a centred around one defiant character with the world on his shoulders, it provides a backstreet guide to a living and breathing, barebones existence that even though shot in a washed out manner, injects a vibrancy of colour through its multinational inhabitants. Troublesome events play out in some of the harshest urban living environments, but Iñárritu manages to illustrate its own kind of ‘biutiful’ allure.

Part of that awakening is having the reliable and charismatic presence of Bardem in the lead as our complex, anti-hero Uxbal. Uxbal juggles many roles as a father, an ex-partner, a medium and an underworld profiteer. No clear lines are drawn; Uxbal is a scintillating combination of survivour, inspirer and protector who values life, where life still flourishes. Even in the ugliest of places and situations, Uxbal seems virtuous, even though his dealings are less than kosher, knowing right from wrong and the importance of family, which is very much evident and the main theme throughout.

Uxbal is a contradiction, knowingly encouraging life-threatening criminal endeavours, but still very much human, caring for his children, his bi-polar ex-wife, various Chinese and African illegal immigrants and illegal street merchants, putting them before him, even as he fights a personal battle against cancer. That said Bardem never allows Uxbal to become too contrived, simply playing him with wilful dignity, as he navigates his way through uncertainty in the last few months of his life.

The only sure factor Uxbal has is that of his death, and in a film that deals with the subject on may levels it could become a somber affair not for the faint-hearted. However, Iñárritu’s Biutiful is very much about life and its positives, which Uxbal helps highlight along the way, continually educating others, and making for an intelligent and truly inspiring protagonist.

With Bardem’s Oscar nod and his international appeal, Biutiful will attract keen interest as it is a pure Bardem performance vehicle. Bardem does compassion and torment in layers of subtly like no other international actor, and it is enthralling to see these characteristics applied in a story set in the most austere of surroundings, rather than the usual flighty love affair we are used to seeing him occupy.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

LFF: Black Swan – 4*

When a film as been lauded about so much, and its star is on the road to picking up every top acting accolade going, it’s hard to get an subjective view on whether the film itself is exceptional. Natalie Portman is definitely worthy of Academy Award recognition for her portrayal as a dancer spiralling out of control in Darren Aronofsky’s dark and bleak drama, Black Swan. That’s indisputable. A fragile-looking Portman has literally suffered for her art to be all consumed by the role in a film which less about ballet, and more about losing control in the act of striving for perfection. The ballet is merely a beautiful visual metaphor.

Portman as New York City ballerina Nina leads us on a spellbinding journey of despair into the darkest recesses of the human psyche with such innocent ease that you are never fully aware of exactly of what is truth and what is fiction at any one moment. In this sense, Aronofsky continually toys with our perceptions and reflects our thoughts back at us through Nina in the changing room mirrors.

Like the character Nina longs to play – a combination of both Swan Lake’s White and Black Swan Queen, each character in Aronofsky’s cleverly layered psychological thriller portrays both extremes of character, further blurring fact from fantasy in a scintillating manner.

Initially, Nina embodies the perfect, virginal nuances of the White Swan, deflecting suspicion away from her mindset, as those around her seem determined to corrupt her purity and crush her dreams. Nina’s mother (Barbara Hershey) seems controlling, mourning a lost ballet career. Nina’s artistic director (Vincent Cassel) seems intent on corrupting her. Nina’s new rival, Lily (Mila Kunis) is all friendliness to her face, but is competitive behind her back. Hence, Nina continually doubts her abilities as a dancer, even with endless, punishing practice, and turns to her own control therapy: dance.

Cassel oozes sexual prowess, displaying that potent and arousing vanity that comes from power and confidence, and is simply dangerously magnetic in the role of Thomas Leroy who stops at nothing to get what he wants. Hershey keeps the mystery of Erica’s true intentions a guarded and intriguing secret, whilst smothering Nina. She is both terrifying and pathetic, and captivating as you ponder her next move.

In what seems to be her quest to show a carefree and hedonistic side for the part of the Black Swan, Nina must make the ultimate sacrifice: her self control. Aronofsky’s film explores untapped sexual needs and desires, from self-exploration to lesbian lust in a lucid fashion. It seems like polar opposites for such a supposed virtuous character, but the creative world Nina inhabits is hungry for sensation, and the emotive music feeds the bodily reactions that begin to awaken in her. This is the genius of Aronofsky’s character; is Nina innocent to begin with, or is she deceiving us all? Aronofsky makes sure we empathise with her until the bitter end to make her dramatic exit so poignant and unforgettable.

Black Swan is an artistic masterpiece on its own, significantly realised by a distinguished performance from Portman and exemplary directing from Aronofsky. With the stirring emotions that the ballet and the music bring, this is a passionate thriller that fuels the age-old battle of good verses evil within with a chilling contemporary twist, and in a world that cruelly wants nothing but short of perfection. It should not be missed.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

The Dilemma – 1*

Let me tell you how to avoid this dilemma: Swiftly bypass the inviting blurb in your box office listing on (yet) another Vince Vaughn relationship comedy, and don’t be fooled by the promise of co-stars of Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Queen Latifah and Channing Tatum who admittedly attract interest.

Astonishingly, the above title is also directed by Ron Howard (of the respected Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind fame), so it’s hard to believe that the film could be that problematic. It is, or rather, Howard’s handle on rom-com is, and this is a word of advice to him to return to what he’s good at: emotional drama.

For starters, the film doesn’t know whether it’s a rom-com of the bromance fashion, a relationship drama laced with wit, an advert starring Hollywood celebrities for a car giant, or another excuse for a Vaughn stand-up comedy feature. It’s so confused, even its stars appear to be grasping at anything to pull the story through; no wonder Ryder’s cheating character Geneva is so acidic tongued and prickly as she’s found out trying to have some extramarital fun, and inject something vaguely enticing into events. Ryder is the best thing in the film, to be honest, seeing as though Connelly is stunning but insipid, and Latifah overdoses on crass double entendres that it becomes nauseating.

It’s a typically predictable Vaughn affair: man’s man (check), Chicago adoration (check); hockey match psychology (check); relationship saboteur (check); and inane ramblings (check). Add the Vaughn verbal tirade to the James meltdown, and you have a headache waiting to happen. There is so much rapid-fire dialogue (take the car journey scene with the pair) that the brain just gives up trying to decipher words, let alone any of the gags.

Vaughn plays ‘wounded-by-women’ male so very well, hence his role as Ronny Valentine, best friend and work colleague to Nick Brannen (James) who discovers that his best friend’s wife (Ryder) is having an affair, should be the one his previous relationship comedies have been gearing up to. It’s a chance to punish all those troublesome, headstrong females out there, like a Neanderthal, and hit a home run for the lads. The trouble is Vaughn appears to have been given free reign to improvise that his well-meaning babble gets lost among the idiocy – like falling out of trees – hence the confusion whether this is drama or comedy remains. And what was Channing thinking playing camp cretinous character Zip, Geneva’s boneheaded lover, plus how did he come into her life in the first place?

So many questions… To use Latifah’s terminology, the only ‘ladywood’ effect was purr and slick bodies of the sexy American muscle cars. Perhaps this is why both Vaughn and James signed up to play with the boys’ toys? Now we understand, but it still doesn’t excuse this misguided mishmash. And someone please muzzle Vaughn for a bit, just until he decides if he wants to be taken seriously in his next role, or charm the undergarments off us ladies with his comedy flare because once upon a time he certainly did.

1/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Morning Glory – 4*

If perkiness is an annoying attribute in a person, you well may be floored by Rachel McAdams’ ultra-enthusiastic TV producer character, Becky Fuller, from the start, and begin gnawing at the cinema seat in demented despair. But fear not; our Becky wins you over in the end because her bubblegum cheeriness turns to hardcore ball crunching in the corporate TV world, as the film progresses and she must learn to ‘grow up’ fast. And it’s utterly hilarious entertainment, a real giggle a minute.

For those who’ve had the dubious pleasure if working on breakfast TV (early starts, presenter paddies, lost feeds, uninspiring stories etc), Roger Michell’s Morning Glory is a nostalgic comic delight, and seriously true to form, where the battle of egos go hand in hand with the battle for the first cup of freshly-brewed morning coffee and pastries. It’s the detail that makes Aline Brosh McKenna’s script click right away – its genuine believability.

These larger-than-life egos DO exist on the morning TV sofas, and aren’t hammed up for the purposes of this film. McAdams as Becky has to drop the scared-little-lady act to cope with the acting prowess of Harrison Ford as pompous ex-news hound, Mike Pomeroy, and Diane Keaton as mature TV diva Collen Peck. The trio are brilliantly cast and play off each other like a dream team, as they rally together to pull the show out of the doldrums.

Indeed, another reason for this guaranteed howler that brings tears of joy to the eyes is the flagging morning show they all work on shares the same name as a certain faltering ITV programme in the TV ratings; it’s showbiz gold, to be gleefully honest. Perhaps, the British channel should hire Becky to help revive the struggling show? Just a thought…

This is one of McAdams’ strongest roles to date – the rest have had little impact on this particular critic, to be honest. It’s a sit-up-and-pay-attention part that draws out the actress’s bittersweet comedic range, even though Becky seems one-dimensional at the start and clichéd to the hilt. As Harrison and Keaton factor in, you are presented with character highs and lows, and numerous chances at redemption. It’s a faux family in the working, headed up by Jeff Goldblum as TV station executive Jerry Barnes in the hot seat, providing his usual witty banter, but delivering a surprisingly more serious side to this character than previous ones.

There is a romance because all work and no play would make Becky a very dull girl to watch, and naturally, she gets the best-looking man in the office. Patrick Wilson provides the intelligent man candy as TV colleague Adam. As the film’s male totty, he utters the odd poignant line to compliment Becky’s erratic nature and get the ladies swooning. It’s a necessary tranquilizer to Becky’s verbal barrage, too, as well as an attractive distraction for a second from the maniacal mayhem in the studio and behind-the-scenes farces.

It’s not quite Drop The Dead Donkey, but a clear runner in the box office ratings, and a sure-fire hit for those searching for a healthy belly laugh at the cinema right now. Bridget Jones rip-off scene aside, starring the beleaguered weatherman in the film, Morning Glory it is, glorious in wit and glorious in cast. Morning TV never got better.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Get Low – 3*

By our very human nature we are fascinated by folklore, especially where wrongdoing or a supernatural element are involved. Our curiosity grows when there is an unresolved factor to the tale, and even a presence or being in the frame.

Debut feature maker Aaron Schneider’s Get Low is based on one such Southern yarn about a real-life loner Felix ‘Bush’ Breazeale from Kingston, Tennessee in the 1930s who had a reputation for being eccentric, wild and dangerous, fuelled by the fact that he chose to live alone with his beloved mule. Bush wanted to know what people would say about him after he was gone – and especially the preacher, so arranged a living funeral, which drew national interest on the offer of lottery tickets for his valuable land. He died a couple of years later, taking the secret of his one true love to the grave.

As a film concept, it is an exciting one, full of possibilities. Schneider is considerate to the legend by getting the casting of his Bush just right in the equally legendary Robert Duvall who fully fleshes out the tired and crusty Bush with little effort. Whether the truer, uglier aspects of the real-life character are missing from this and tamed down is hard to tell, but Duvall’s Bush merely seems like a harassed old man with a shady past and an exceptional beard, simply wanting to be left alone in his latter years. Our empathy with that is vitally important for Schneider’s film to work and is tactfully sown from the start, especially when some pesky youths come a snooping on Bush’s land.

Indeed, be prepared for a slow burner of realisation and redemption that in turn allows for its multitude of colourful characters to evolve in a touching and comical way. It is absolutely a character-driven film with a hint of western theme, so placing an experienced actor like Duvall in the lead to drive the mystery was a wise and necessary choice. To match Duvall’s guarded and, at times, muted delivery needs a wit-matching catalyst of talent. Bill Murray injects the humour with his own brand of thrilling deadpan and nonchalant precision as the local, money-grabbing funeral home owner, Frank Quinn.

It feels like an odd partnership at first as we expect Murray to lead us done the farcical comedy path, as Quinn runs ragged around town and the state trying to host the biggest party ever. These are some of the joyous and memorable scenes of the film, especially getting Bush’s picture taken. But Murray retains his serious composure, making salesman Quinn and his calculating ways far more amusing to watch, and bringing a whole new dimension to the character. Quinn gains a healthy bank balance, but also heart, a place in the local community (as an out-of-towner from the big city, Chicago), and a purpose in life that the liquor-swilling boss craves. It is an intriguing journey in itself. However, slightly disappointingly, the character is left woefully unexplored, with Schneider preferring to cut dead any development in that respect to focus the story on his lead protagonist. This results in Quinn never rising above his comedy caricature.

Bush’s manipulating ways are exposed by Quinn’s by-the-book protégée, Buddy Robinson, who sees life in the old dog Bush yet. Robinson is the film’s human barometer, the voice of reason and the new blood in the situation. The ever scornful-looking and brow-furrowed Lucas Black nicely takes on the role with an attentive and determined manner, becoming the surrogate family Bush never had. Both Robinson and Bush’s old flame, Mattie, refuse to allow Bush to fester in his lot and shy away from society, gently coaxing out his dormant humanity, emotion and generosity of spirit. Sissy Spacek as Mattie gives her usual solid and tormented performance as the victim of unrequited love. Opposite Duvall, their appearances and acute facial expressions are compelling to watch as the mystery of Bush’s hermitage unfolds.

Indeed, Mattie is a fictional character and not part of the real-life tale. She has been created to allow Schneider to take the easy option out by revealing the mystery with a heart-felt, beans-spilling and rather theatrical ending, rather than opting for the trickier one of retaining some of Bush’s enigma, and giving the film a nice little twist. Admittedly, Duvall is always captivating to watch, giving one of his momentous screen speeches that is spoiled with the visual flashbacks for the hard-of-thinking. Hence, the reveal seems a little deflating and unsatisfactory an explanation as to his choice of lifestyle. By withholding some of his true feelings and intentions, Schneider could have concluded the film on an unnerving edge, allowing for the imagination to run wild and keeping the folklore in tact. Still, we get to respect and warm to Bush in the end, and in turn, give him a hero’s send off.

Get Low is a quirky and touching tale of the power of storytelling that completely relies on its rich character strength to see it to fruition. Its appeal lies solely on Duvall as Bush, even though his intrigue that is so brilliantly built up in the first half, somewhat crumbles in the second half, when the mystery comes flooding out in a weepy confessional. If nothing else, Duvall makes Bush iconic in stature, prompting a genuine sigh at the old man’s passing and the tragedy of time lost. It is a safe bet in feature film-making for Schneider who should be credited alone for attracting a stellar cast, as well as an apt platform for reintroducing the exceptional acting veteran Duvall as a leading protagonist, after many years away from centre stage.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

I Spit On Your Grave – 3*

It would be very easy to dismiss Steven R. Monroe’s 2010 remake of one of the most controversial thrillers of all time, I Spit on Your Grave, as a tasteless and unimaginative money-spinner by those who have not yet seen it – or the original, for that matter. Hearsay is a powerful publicity tool, and this new film needs no further introduction to prick curiosity. But you still have to ask who would pay to see a film exploiting a female through rape and physical torture – except a select torture porn minority. Has Monroe’s film take the issues of the original and given the rest of us something else to think about?

Pert-bottomed posters aside, having seen both this film and the original Meir Zarchi one with its soft-focus, voyeuristic cinematography, and highly disturbing and claustrophobic attack setting, Monroe could be argued to have made better use of the original title, Day Of The Woman, than his predecessor. His protagonist and lone victim/survivour in question, Jennifer Hills, has a Predator-style determination that goes to partially rebalance any distress caused by seeing her degraded – and that’s coming from a female perspective. The 2010 film is as raw as Zarchi’s but far more inventive in its revenge aspect, boasting superior production values, too, with a pseudo-documentary quality as the attacks are captured on tape. This is one of its core strengths that set it apart from the titillating original and its unsettling soft-porn treatment.

Jennifer is a young and attractive writer from New York who decides to stay at a country retreat to work on her next novel. Stopping off for petrol, she draws the attention of some local men who later repeatedly humiliate and gang rape her, with the local sheriff as the ringleader. She then systematically hunts down each one of them to reap her revenge.

Newcomer Sarah Butler plays Jennifer this time, marking a courageous career step for such a young actress. That said it’s a no brainer, really, considering the hype that surrounds the film. In a warped sense, it’s a great platform for Butler to launch a budding film career because she injects intelligence mixed with anger into the role, whilst having the opportunity to show a softer, more vulnerable side at the beginning. We are allowed to actually grow to like and respect her, unlike the original Jennifer portrayed by Camille Keaton, where little character development was given.

Nevertheless, the character of Jennifer – like the plot – still seems a little simplistic and clichéd, even though Butler makes the role her own, offering more personality traits to make her more compelling. Butler is also more convincing as Jennifer, more realistic than the catwalk-like curves and seductive demeanour from Keaton. Monroe has cast well, with Butler being fragile and prepubescent in appearance. As rape is a tool of power, Butler’s portrayal and stature seems to provoke more empathy for her during her brutal ordeal, which positions us firmly behind her when she begins hunting down her prey, like a cold and calculating killer. There is even a hint that she is supernatural upon her return from ‘the dead’, and an intriguing self-reflective end shot, where Butler confronts us, the viewer, to dare to pass judgment. Monroe’s film certainly has more attitude.

Like Deliverance and other such films, Monroe plays on the ‘town verses countryside’ debate. His attackers are still a bunch of one-dimensional, one-brain-celled hillbillies that seem to have nothing better to do with their time than hunting, drinking and leering. Not much has changed in that respect; expect they are contemporary in appearance. There is no attempt to create a background story on each, allowing our imaginations to think the worst and to firmly position them as monsters.

But it is Andrew Howard as Sheriff Storch with a face like a constipated pug dog who sends chills up and down the spine, and steals the group scenes. We do get to see a bit of his family life and learn that he has a young daughter. This makes him all the more frightening, unpredictable and most depraved of the lot. He actually feels the most real of all the male characters; the others are caricatures as seen in the original, which is a shame. Still, too much detail on each would detract from the film’s purpose of female revenge, as all the sympathy must be with Jennifer, if the film is to work.

And 2010’s I Spit On Your Grave does for its bold direction. Films don’t necessarily have to entertain, but they can challenge our comfort zones. I Spit On Your Grave is one that toys with your emotions in an exploitative and unforgiving manner, but wants you to be the judge and jury, and the documentary-style cinematography helps inject more realism and seriousness into events, elevating this film above the semi-erotic original. It will still shock, appall and divide opinion, and kick off knee-jerk reactions from a new generation of filmgoers. But Jennifer just got meaner and nastier; it’s almost ‘Girl Power’ of a different persuasion, and her spree may well result in a hung jury, rather than, as the poster quote states, “but no jury in America would ever convict her!”

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer