|Films I Neglected To Review: "Well, We Warned You."
|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of ''Feral,'' ''Filmworker,'' ''The Gospel According to Andre'' and ''Mary Shelley.''
''Feral'' appears to be writer-director Mark Young's tribute to what the great drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs used to refer to as ''spam-in-a-cabin''--films in which a bunch of attractive-yet-callow young people go off into the woods for a weekend of fun only to find themselves being gruesomely picked off one by one by a psycho killer or a supernatural monster or some kind of barely-explained force. This particular subgenre has yielded everything from masterpieces like ''The Evil Dead'' and ''Cabin in the Woods'' to unmitigated dreck like ''Cabin Fever'' and, well, this particular film. Here, a group of six friends go off to celebrate graduating from medical school with a weekend in the wilderness but they have barely pitched their tents for the night when something pops out of the darkness to disembowel one and badly wound his fiancee. The other four (led by couple Scout-Taylor Compton and Olivia Luccardi) run across a loner (Lew Temple) who offers to let them take their wounded friend back to his isolated cabin before they set off to find help. Things get weirder, however--the dead guy's body has disappeared and the grizzled stranger seems to know more about what is going on than he is letting on--and before too long, the others gradually find themselves being torn apart like fresh bread as they struggle to both survive and understand what is happening.
''Feral'' is another one of those movies that is so obviously constructed from bits and pieces from other and usually better films that geeks could challenge each other to name the most titles being ripped off--besides the ones mentioned above, it also borrows heavily from the likes of ''The Descent'' and ''28 Days Later.'' Unfortunately, Young spends more time emulating the classics than in trying to tell an interesting story and so we are stuck with watching a bunch of drab and largely uninteresting characters standing around like dopes while being messily dispatched via the grisly practical visual effects that will no doubt prove to be the chief lure for those who wind up seeing it. His directing is as graceless and style-free as you can imagine, the screenplay is 100% pure boilerplate and his handling of the actors is meh at best. (The only performers who come out of this with some shreds of dignity are Compton and Luccardi, who make for a reasonably likable team when they aren't busy screaming for their lives or being splattered with fake blood.) Even the least discriminating horror fans are liable to struggle to maintain interest in this one and the final shot that suggests a potential sequel is not likely to win much support from them. Ignore the title--as horror films go, ''Feral'' is as tame as can be.
Back in the early 1970s, Leon Vitali was an up-and-coming British actor who had appeared in a bunch of television shows and a few movies when he was cast by the great Stanley Kubrick in the supporting role of Lord Bullingdon in his 1975 historical epic ''Barry Lyndon.'' Although the film was deemed a disappointment at the time (like most Kubrick films, it is undergone intense reevaluation over the years and is now generally considered to be one of his true masterpieces), Vitali fell under the spell of Kubrick and, save for a couple of appearances in the subsequent decades, shut down his acting career entirely in order to serve as Kubrick's personal assistant, doing everything in his power (and then some) in order to help the director pursue the obsessive vision that would lead to the classics ''The Shining,'' ''Full Metal Jacket'' and ''Eyes Wide Shut,'' ranging from answering memos to check to conducting research to working with actors. Even today, nearly 20 years after Kubrick's passing, he continues to work for his estate in helping to maintain the voluminous archives. Now he is the subject of ''Filmworker,'' a documentary by Tony Zierra that offers viewers a peek behind the Kubrick curtain. For fans of the filmmakers, it is a must for all the behind-the-scenes tidbits supplied by Vitali and others who worked with Kubrick over the years and who, like Vitali, still seem consumed by the experience. However, when it comes to answering the question of why a person with his own blossoming career would voluntarily choose to throw it all away in order to devote himself to a life dedicated solely to attempting to satisfy someone else's artistic vision (and it certainly wasn't for the big bucks--Vitali's children talk about needing to lend him money at certain times), the film doesn't seem to have given any real thought to the subject. The story of the Kubrick-Vitali relationship and the mutual obsessions driving it is one so potentially powerful and troubling that perhaps only a filmmaker like Kubrick could have possibly tackled it in a satisfactory manner. Alas, Zierra is no Kubrick and while it contains just enough details regarding Kubrick and his films to make it work, most viewers will come away with it with nothing more than a desire to revisit the Kubrick oeuvre as soon as possible. (Happily, Chicago's Music Box Theatre, where ''Filmworker'' is playing, is helping out on that end by presenting a retrospective of the four Kubrick films Vitali was involved with, all in 35MM, over the next week.)
The last few years has seen a relative glut of documentaries dealing in some way with the fashion industry and the vast majority of them have had two things in common--they tend to be little more than infomercials that praise their respective subjects to the skies without ever quite explaining why they are deserving of such adulation and they all seem to include the ever-flamboyant fashion commentator and former ''Vogue'' editor Andre Leon Talley as one of the talking heads heaping on the aforementioned adulation. Now, with the new documentary ''The Gospel According to Andre,'' Talley appears to have cashed in all the chits that he has accumulated over the years by taking front and center in a film in which the bold-name likes of Anna Wintour, Naomi Campbell, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Will.i.am (who at one point calls Talley ''the Nelson Mandela of couture'') testify to his unparalleled greatness. Although I have tended to find Talley's over-the-top schtick to be more than a little enervating in the past, I have to admit that his life, which took him from being the son of a North Carolina sharecropper to one of the most powerful names in an industry that itself has had a somewhat questionable record of its own in regards to race, actually does contain enough intriguing elements in order to make for a reasonably compelling documentary. Unfortunately, director Kate Novack is clueless as to how to approach it--instead of recounting Talley's story in a simple and direct way, she takes a far more shallow approach that is more concerned with glitz and glam than anything else and the talking heads on display here are so obsequious and fawning in their praise that they actually wind up diminishing his own potentially powerful personal narrative. Perhaps realizing how shallow the proceedings have been, Novack tries to bring some gravity to the late innings by focusing on Talley reacting to the results of the 2016 presidential election but it just is not a good fit. Fashionistas will probably get some kind of kick out of ''The Gospel According to Andre'' but even they will end up thinking it to be too last year for its own good.
In theory, a film about the life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the young woman who was the child of political and social radicals and the young lover of poet Percy Shelley before achieving literary immortality by writing and publishing the groundbreaking horror novel ''Frankenstein,'' sounds like a slam dunk and the notion of having her played by Elle Fanning, who has become one of the best and most inventive young American actresses working today, sounds like an equally brilliant idea. And yet, despite doing just that, ''Mary Shelley'' is a painfully turgid and unedifying biopic that would struggle to come to life even if you sent 10,000 volts of electricity coursing through it. Say what you will about the grotesque artistic excesses of Ken Russell, whose ''Gothic'' explored the legendary creation of “Frankenstein,” he at least demonstrated some degree of interest in both the novel and, more importantly, the woman who created it in direct challenge to the conventions of the time. By comparison, director/co-writer Haifaa al-Mansour doesn’t really seem to have much interest in her as a person or as an artist. Throughout much of the proceedings, she recounts the details of her subject's life--her estrangement from her father and stepmother after being swept off her feet by the charming Shelley (Douglas Booth), her disillusionment upon discovering that Shelley is an irresponsible, free-spending narcissist, the period of being stuck in a rain-swept castle with Shelley, her step-sister (Bel Powley) and the even more dissolute Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) that led to her writing her book and her struggle to get it published under her own name--but she tackles them with all the flair and excitement of a high schooler delivering an oral report that is at least 60% Wikipedia. The end result is a stuffy bore that indistinguishable from any number of well-meaning but stultifying biopics and not even Fanning can save it from disposability--she is the best thing in it but even she is pretty much going through the motions. Trust me, if you want to pay tribute to Mary Shelley and be entertained at the same time, you are hereby advised to skip ''Mary Shelley'' and spend a couple of hours reading her book, which continues to pack the kind of emotional and dramatic wallop that this film can only dream of achieving.
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originally posted: 06/01/18 10:23:58
last updated: 06/01/18 11:50:26