Thursday, October 6, 2011

If these dogs are barking don't bother coming in

Straw Dogs [*1/2]

In the forty years that separate Sam Peckinpah and Rod Lurie’s versions of Straw Dogs I wondered if the same views and values would stand the test of time, much less cultures, and as it turns out they feel equally primitive in both contexts. The film(s) are a whole sticky wicket of problems and provocations, and if the films don’t need to be remade at least there is a legitimate conversation piece. Those things don‘t happen often enough.

Before I delve into everything, I would like to state that the movie is reasonably well made, this isn’t a project you embark on if you feel dispassionate in any way about the material. From a technical standpoint it is competent and need not be discussed any further in that regard. The movie, however, lives or dies on how one reacts to it and the film can, and will, evoke a lot of uncomfortable thoughts and may even provide some much needed gravity and perspective to the casual misogyny most of us will be extremely guilty of going in.

An official plot synopsis and other information is required before diving into the muckety muck of the film proper: David and Amy Sumner (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth) are a successful Hollywood couple, she’s an actress he’s a screenwriter, who have returned to her hometown of Blackwater, Mississippi to get the family home in order. First welcomed with open arms, tensions gradually begin to mount between the Sumners and the locals (more specifically a few of her old friends/gawkers: Alexander Skarsgard, Rhys Coiro, Billy Lush, Drew Powell) before one unspeakable crime begets another. This all culminates in a stand-off in which David must protect his house and family from Skarsgard and co while also harboring the town’s local idiot/ potential pedophile, Jeremy Niles.

A few major events that are discussed in the essay include: the rape of Amy, behaviors of the coach’s daughter and her relationship to the mentally challenged Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell), the arrival of Skarsgard and company looking to claim Niles after the coach’s fifteen-year-old daughter goes missing and the Sumners decision to protect him, and the general milquetoast-ness of David.

To put it mildly, both versions of the film hate women. At least women, for sure, but probably all females. In fact, the one thing that both version of “Straw Dogs” manage to successfully convey is a disdain for women that I’m not sure most cavemen would endorse.* The movie hates women so much that it bends over backwards to let us know that girls are not women (although biologically speaking a fifteen-year-old girl would have matured to the point of womanhood), but that all women regardless of age are provocateurs (which is something we will come back to); a troubling and contradictory stance that is worth trying to wrap your head around. However, the important thing to remember at the moment is that girls are not women especially if they have a daddy to remind everybody of that fact (a crazy, terrifying nutter of a dad played by James Woods, no less). The daddy also has four twenty-something year-old yes men (Skarsgard and co.) who, by the by, don’t have a problem raping one female (Bosworth) while they rush to the defense of another (coach’s little girl). This “girl” also happens to be their old coach’s daughter, so maybe they don’t rape her out of respect or fear for her father. They don’t respect or fear the husband (James Marsden) of the woman they do rape so maybe it is that simple. Someone has to assert dominance for the animals to learn their place. With all of that said, one could make the simple argument that the reason the men don’t rape the girl is because they are not pedophiles. It is a fact, these men are not pedophiles, but the girl is, biologically speaking, a woman. And the movie will go on to make a very arbitrary distinction between girl and woman since the movie has a very specific idea of how it wants you to feel about females. In addition to the men not fearing or respecting the husband they also have a desire to destroy the woman. Not just because it is in their nature to do and because she is a woman and they hate them, but because she has chosen an outsider as her lover. The coach’s daughter whom these men so “valiantly defend” in the film’s climax has also chosen an outsider, a mentally challenged man (Dominic Purcell), whom she is friendly with and who, much to the chagrin of the locals, calls her his girlfriend (and may himself be a pervert, though this is never shown). This girl, coach’s daughter, may be being friendly because she sees him as a relatively harmless fellow, but the movie never affords us that knowledge, so because of the film’s disdain for women and the view that they are provocateurs, we have no choice but to assume that the movie’s goal is for us to hate women. Writing this I can’t help but equate the mentally challenged man to an outsider, which means that the young girl has effectively chosen an outsider (he was born mentally handicapped), but he’s not an outsider by choice so the onus of the mistake lies with him and not with her. Or that’s what we the audience is left to assume. There are moments when things get all Frankensteinian up in this bitch (moreso when the angry mob goes hunting after the big dumb lug with a gun in lieu of torches) when the retarded guy accidentally kills coach’s daughter as he tries to quiet her. This happens so that her Coach wouldn’t be drawn into a room in which he saw a mentally challenged older man with his daughter. She dies, perhaps, by accident but also because the movie needs her to, to prove on some level that a woman cannot go unpunished for choosing the outsider. The girl cannot suffer the same fate as the wife because she’s a girl but she must suffer because she is a female. It bears noting that what happens to the daughter is probably meant to show another distinction between deserving what you get and not deserving it. I have only had conversations with four people about the film and two have compared the film’s treatment of women to Muslims and two more have said that Bosworth’s character brought her rape on herself when she flashes the men who have been ogling her body. Sure, it might be a provocative thing to do (flashing men you know are looking at you and making you uncomfortable), but it doesn’t justify rape. The whole argument that she brought it on herself would mean that the two men who said this would literally have to be ok with someone saying “I’m going to go rape this woman” (and since I know them to be decent people who wouldn’t partake in such an activity) and they would have to say: “take your time. I brought a book to read, I’ll be out in the truck waiting.” It’s a terrible thing to say that someone asked to be raped and to say she brought it on herself is a pretty lousy justification or defense of any action. Although, I suppose the idea of he/she brought it upon his/herself works strictly as a series of actions and reactions and only in certain contexts: she was looking and smelling good so it’s her fault I went and introduced myself/ we talked and danced/ now we’re married. Her fault for being sexy. At the end of the day it’s just mean to say that someone deserves something bad and it undercuts one’s basic humanity to say as much.

Another problem that the film suffers is that Amy Sumner is raped, but her husband David’s final stand against the men who performed the crime has nothing to do with the fact that they raped her. The men violated the sanctity of his home, sure, but the sanctity of his wife seems to be important only because she is in his home, but not because she is his wife. In fact, were it not for a slight deviation from the original film, Amy’s rape would go unmentioned to her husband in the film proper. And I don’t believe there are any looks telling enough between the two of them that suggest that she has communicated her rape to him in code or with a glance. While she was being raped, David was out hunting, and being abandoned by the men he will later fight, and he comes home stewing that the men left him in the woods and remains completely oblivious to the distraught looks of his wife. This moment in the woods, occurring alongside his wife’s rape, is also the one in which the milquetoast learns how to shoot straight and become a man. Giving the movie a direct correlation to empowerment through rape, not that it wasn’t obvious already, but it appears to send a mixed message when one considers that David’s wife’s rape gives him a heretofore unknown strength (that he later uses against the same men) and allows him to secretly avenge a rape he didn‘t know about; when it‘s really kind of obvious that the reason she never tells David is because he honestly can‘t be bothered to defend his wife in any previous context in the movie. When this Amy (who unlike the original film’s Amy, is no longer still turned on by bad boy aggression) reports to her husband concerns that the men have killed the family cat and that they were ogling her body as she worked up a sweat while running, David’s solution is to pussyfoot around the former issue and to take the men’s side in the latter. And while I initially couldn’t blame him for his reaction to the men ogling her it just seemed to underscore how much of a shit he doesn’t give about her concerns. This movie validates David’s flippancy when Amy goes to take a shower and exposes herself to the men who are going to look anyway by painting her as, you guessed it, a provocateur. I suppose that by ultimately allowing Amy to be the avenger of her own rape the filmmakers have at least elevated her person somewhat. Amy and David have a marriage that paints her as a not terribly bright, but not idiotic girl, who engages in some good humored and kind of flirty passive aggression with a too serious minded husband. In the original, Amy was world’s more attractive and world’s dumber than her husband, but in making the ‘11 Sumners a more plausible and attractive couple Amy gets elevated to a step above a come dumpster (the fact that she doesn‘t enjoy being forcibly taken by her ex-boyfriend in this incarnation also helps to elevate her status). However, it negates one of the chief reasons I thought casting Skarsgard for the role was a novel idea**). Let’s hear it for progress. But again, this development paints David in a worse light because he’s not avenging his wife, he’s protecting his home and he’s been spurred on this path because he is protecting another outsider (the mentally challenged man). If there is a logic to be found in Sumner’s actions it is the idea that protecting our own only applies to houses that transfer ownership, people that are outcasts like oneself and things that can’t get tainted (read: raped) by the other. One could argue that David fighting back against the home invaders is him stopping a raping and pillaging that he could not prevent before, but the gesture is meaningless when the damage has been done already and when your own wife won‘t tell you that she has been attacked. He’s not really a hero for any reason that matters, he’s like the men who come to his house looking for blood-- so full of moral outrage that the only thing that is really getting accomplished is that their anger is making hypocrites out of all of them.

At the end of the day, one cannot help but feel about Straw Dogs the way Straw Dogs wants them to feel about women-- it is a provocateur, it probably wants us to hate it, but it’ll settle for any reaction as long as it gets one.

* In my section of the Bible Belt, saying that a caveman wouldn’t endorse the films views on women got this reaction from a married couple: kind of like Muslims. Muslims being cavemen in this scenario. Also, since the rednecks in the film are churchgoing types it allows them an easy platform for unjustifiable indignation, but the audience seems pretty unwilling to acknowledge the hypocrisy of their observations. As it regards Muslims v Christianity. I’m sure the film will lend itself to a religious interpretation, but lacking the ability to analyze in that way, the people remain, on a level of basic human decency, irredeemable assholes. Being Muslims or anything like it doesn’t matter for me.

** Casting Skarsgard as the rapist ex-boyfriend seemed to make a lot of sense if you got the impression that the movie was being “True Blood”ed (a show which features Skarsgard as an oft-shirtless vampire that ladies swoon over) up and that they were really playing up the hot, sweaty, sexy angle. I am also under a completely unsubstantiated belief that any “True Blood” loving female with a rape fantasy has one that stars Skarsgard, whose Southern accent is great, by the way.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Days, Nights and Years of Fright

Fright Night [****] and The Devil's Double [***1/2]

This “Fright Night” is not interested in replacing the 1985 version in your memories, but it is as dedicated to being a movie that deserves to be called “Fright Night” as one could rightly hope any movie bearing the title would be. It has a sense of escalation to replace the slow burning atmosphere of the original but it remains largely the story of a kid obsessed with a neighbor who is no good for the people he loves. And he needs the help of an expert to prove it. Enter reason number one why both “Fright Night”s will remain alongside one another rather than one supplanting the other: some of you may prefer the more traditionally garbed/portrayed Peter Vincent (portrayed by Roddy McDowell) to the new Criss Angel style potty mouthed version. I get someone preferring the old version, but Vincent’s newer, crushing backstory invests the character with a level of depth that is both blindsiding and stupefying. David Tennant makes the character vulgar, hilarious and tragic. In fact, every character from “Fright Night” 2011 seems to locate the one thing that makes them tick and has at least one devastating moment that brings it to the foreground. Three viewings later a moment in which a central character meets his demise becomes exponentially more poignant. The death, a fiery and bloody one that results in ashes and forgiveness, is capped off with the proclamation: “it’s okay Charlie.” A couple of my friends insist the line is really “f--k you Charlie!” They are wrong, but the fact that the moment holds equal power either way, speaks to the movie’s utter insistence that humans are ultimately forged by the way that they hold on to traumas and the impossible grace with which they cast them off in the final moments.

If finding the humanity of a character is at the crux of what makes “Fright Night” work so well then consider that as a link to director Lee Tamahori’s “The Devil’s Double” in which Dominic Cooper plays both Uday Hussein and his double Latif Yahia. There are moments in the film in which Uday tries to make Yahia execute someone for paltry reasons. Yahia might not object to having to do this were it not for the fact that, in doing so, he wants what every human needs: motivation. Hussein never obliges Yahia, he just does it himself in vivid sprays of crimson and power. And again we find another link to “Fright Night” as we have a creature so unburdened by conscience and driven entirely by bloodlust, yet, like Jerry in the “Fright Night” remake, he is capable of a fa├žade of extreme friendliness that is so unsettling precisely because we know the monster that lurks underneath. Cooper, like Farrell, gets to play two extremes but unlike Farrell he gets to play it with a little self parody, adopting a high pitch whine and knocking things around as Hussein while as Yahia he combs his hair to the side and remains calmer, more collected. Farrell has the same sort of sultriness no matter if he is being creepy or friendly. At least until he goes into full-on vampire mode. It might be worth noting that Farrell and Cooper hail from Ireland and Britain respectively and I can’t help but wonder if their being neither American or Iraqi performers (as the roles call for) allows them to more easily highlight the inherent monstrousness of these particular cultures that they play monsters of. It might not be a relevant question for Colin Farrell's character, who could literally be anyone but is ultimately an American monster, but once I raise the question I can't ignore it (even when I can't answer it).

Dominic Cooper who plays Uday Hussein portrayed Howard Stark in “Captain America” a genius inventor and father to Tony Stark, another genius who is arrogant and also Iron Man. Does that level of arrogance and power that Cooper is cinematically responsible for make him a more appropriate choice to play Hussein? I think it does. While we're at it, the film practices American excess by being evocative of "Scarface" in addition to being a biopic and an espionage picture.

At the end of the day, both films despite large mostly non-American casts feel utterly truthful because they can happen in our streets and in our countries. The monsters are heightened to a fever pitch, but the need to rule by fear and the desire to simply survive are utterly relatable feelings. Such mad displays of power and struggles against it are also rarely this entertaining.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Roommate: with choice blurbs

The Roommate [zero]

I thought it would be easier to make a fake poster with insulting pull quotes rather than be self consciously asshole-y and, consequently, unamusing in a review. I don't know exactly how one deed cancels out the other, but my photo shop skills are as shitty as the movie so we're in pretty good company with one another.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Plundered Booty

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [**]

It seems, given the box office receipts, that not nearly as many people are/were clamoring for a fourth installment as was expected. $90 million is nothing to sneeze at, but perhaps it foreshadows the diminishing returns that a sequel laden summer should eventually suggest. However, money making acumen aside, the fourth film has taken a refreshingly simplistic approach in its storytelling: now we have three disparate groups (Spaniards, Barbossa leading the Navy, and pirates) looking to reach the same goal (the Fountain of Youth) for their own ends. A mermaid's tear is also needed to enact the life expanding properties of the fountain and a golden chalice. It's no more complicated than that despite a couple of betrayals which are necessitated less by plot demands than the weaselly nature of being a pirate.

Johnny Depp as per usual goes big as Captain Jack Sparrow, but he plays the role with such ease and old hat non-chalance it's hard to tell if he's still being game or just sleepwalking through the role. All of that said, no one seems particularly committed. No one is bad, but the revenge that Barbossa seeks has lost all weight while the threat that Ian McShane's Blackbeard should imply is diminished to about five minutes worth of CGI trickery and a couple of lightly evil deeds. It's a peculiar waste of McShane's charisma, but also a waste of a lot of other opportunities: a zombified crew and a ship that does Blackbeard's bidding when he touches his magical scabbard are curiously under-utilized. Blackbeard also has a daughter who seems to ground and humanize him in a way that voids him of any menace. Her entrance which obscures her face in shadow is a reliable cliche meant to mask that she is a woman, but also underscores how woefully ordinary the whole affair is. It's a fourth adventure, but it isn't big, game changing or anything like that. It is designed simply to be one of the forgettable adventures in a pirate's life. When reflecting upon this year's later Jack Sparrow might say: "Did I ever tell you about the killer mermaids and the Fountain of Youth? Well, it happened once and then life went on."

It's a fine two hour diversion and considering how little of our time and money the franchise deserves after parts two and three it's nice to see them cut the clutter and try to get back to the basics of telling a story that doesn't rely on exposition. However, they accidentally diminish the fun of the spectacle by not giving us enough and ignoring some of the more intriguing elements they've left in play. I can't help but wonder if this is a way of testing the waters to see if there is life left in the franchise. Are there are plans to truly blow us out of the water with a fifth installment? I can see them trying to figure out what audiences really want and cutting the fat, I doubt they'll succeed but as far as part fours go they've totally succeeded at making a quick buck while improving on the efficiency of a franchise in the slightest of ways. I didn't hate the movie so maybe it doesn't secretly hate me and want my money. Maybe it wants to please me and is just too exhausted with its own part fourness to care? I guess I'll just have to wait until the next wholly unnecessary sequel to figure out if complacency is the deliberate modus operandi of every number four.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Alienation Nation

Paul [**]

For me the films of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have always been something of a comedy event. I didn't know who they were the first time I went to see Shaun of the Dead, but I learned to make them synonymous with people who understood why we liked certain kinds of movies, people who respected and crafted those kinds of movies and as people who did it while making us laugh unabashedly, unashamedly. It was, and maybe can be again, wonderful. But it is not this time.

I have to admit I was excited for collaborator Edgar Wright not to be a part of this film because Greg Mottola has made some pretty excellent, unshowy comedies and I was still reeling from how flashy and empty (and unappreciative of its audience) Scott Pilgrim v The World appeared to be. I wanted something that was going to be more sincere, funny, honest and less flashy. I thought Mottola was going to nail this film. I didn't get what I wanted in any case. Without the injection of energy and crafty editing that Wright would have brought to the project the action that kicks in around the last half hour feels a little still born. There's no exclamation marks on the jokes, which is okay, I don't need that. I understand that it is not necessarily part of Mottola's arsenal to be over-the-top and high energy but it really might have benefited from such things. I think the magic of Simon Pegg might be lost outside of Hollywood blockbusters and I think the magic of Pegg and cohort Nick Frost is certainly lacking without Edgar Wright. The three of them are like Dr. Pepper when mixed together and without one of the ingredients you have a Mr. Pibb type beverage that no insistence from the masses is ever going to make taste the same. It's okay when that's what you want, but it isn't necessarily what you were expecting.

Don't get me wrong I don't mean to insist that Mottola is the Mr. Pibb of directors, but I must insist that Wright-Frost-Pegg never not collaborate together again and if a Greg Mottola kind of movie, with funny jokes and thoughtful characterization is going to peak its head out of the veil of coulda/shoulda/woulda that Paul wears over it's oddly shaped little green head then it is probably better that Mottola have the room to be himself.

Paul for anyone who didn't see the preview is about two comic book/sci-fi aficianados who are touring the country's UFO sights post Comic Con when they pick up an alien and end up with homophobic rednecks and government agents on their tail. They also kidnap a woman who runs an RV park only to have her gun toting father also head out after them.

The film's two nice surprises are that a gun toting secret agent played by Jason Bateman is not exactly who he appears to be, in the best possible sense. That he also resurrects a long dormant grade school phrase ("motherfucking titty sucking two ball bitch") is one of the film's two unmitigated pleasures. The other is that Paul in all his miracle working tendencies cures a woman of blindness in one eye, which her father later hails as a miracle from God, and gives the woman (a devout Creationist) a moment's pause. It's a shrewd moment that allows for the most important and successful element of science fiction to be acknowledged: that faith and what science teaches us be allowed to intermingle; possibly to challenge or even reaffirm our beliefs. I think the fact that an otherworldly being participates in this moment says more about the possibility of a God than not but the movie is quick to rebuff any notions of a higher power. That moment is also where the film finds a problem that I think speaks to the relative lack of success of this general enterprise. This close mindedness about its subject, that no other Pegg-Frost collaboration has had, seems to hinder their ability to embrace the totality of their story, transcend it and create a lasting work that can stand alongside whatever they're loving and lampooning.

In the past, Pegg and Frost are able to understand the appeal of Michael Bay films and zombie films without saying they are ridiculous. In fact, the two of them go hog wild celebrating the films without ever uttering the r word, but they can't for a moment acknowledge the possible lynchpin of science fiction. Even if only to say that man's ambition is what drives him to be closer to God, but they don't even say that, they just find a target to give the middle finger to. It's not the most troubling thing in the world, but it is definitely coming from two guys who should know better.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

fighting and settling

The Adjustment Bureau [***], The Green Hornet and Take Me Home Tonight [**1/2]

Since the world probably would have exploded had Ben Affleck and Matt Damon released competing films on the same day audiences had to wait six months to see the Matt Damon starrer The Adjustment Bureau and, to be honest, had it come to pass it would have been a pretty depressing double header. Not because both films share an optimistic and downbeat quality, but because Affleck's film is on a whole different plateau of goodness while Damon's primary goal (for me, at least) is to wash the taste of Green Zone out of the collective American mouth. I will say that both Damon and Affleck have stellar chemistry with their leading ladies, but Affleck could have brought the heat with anyone (luckily it was the lovely Rebecca Hall) while Damon's not inconsiderable conviction is entirely dependent on how radiant Emily Blunt is. I'm not saying another actress couldn't have done this part, but I'm saying I don't want to imagine it. Blunt is the ray of sunshine that Damon spies when he surfaces for air against the dim tide of the fate controlling Adjustment Bureau.

On a slightly less enthusiastic note, but an enthusiastic one just the same, I found Michael Gondry's take on The Green Hornet to be a surprisingly fun film. It occasionally strains under the obviousness of shots that seemed tailored to the wholly unnecessary 3-D, but having seen it in two glorious dimensions I'm lucky to have had the experience in "presentable vision."

The movie strikes me in just the right way early on with a pretty amusing James Franco cameo where he latches on to the insecurities of a crime boss and trashes his legacy before being put out to pasture. But Franco and Waltz do it so gamely, with much relish that it is hard not to welcome the movie with open arms from that point on. Jay Chou, who was not welcome news to me following a Stephen Chow departure before the project even lifted off, manages to acquit himself nicely as an ass kicker. Having only been previously exposed to him in The Treasure Hunter and ever-so-briefly in the excellent True Legend, I wasn't convinced he was the right replacement ass kicker for the job, but he does fine and I appreciated the near instant chemistry he had with Rogen. I also appreciated a great brawl between friends that destroys everything in the room a la Commando and Rogen and Franco's own Pineapple Express.

The action also surprises with a certain level of clarity, destructiveness and a well executed boxing the heroes in for certain doom moment.

The vulgar 80s set introspective life after college romp makes a return with Take Me Home Tonight, a film that lacks the heart of Adventureland and the confidence wrecking comedy that can be wrought on characters by family members that She's Out of My League brought to the table, but it has drugs and boobs and a fat guy. These elements don't always converge to make an ideal comedy, but I always admire films that deal with issues of aimlessness because I can very much relate to the pussy in flux aspect of the protagonist. I can't say that I get triumph in one hundred minutes, but I take comfort in the message: love thyself, take a risk, etc.

I find it even more refreshing when a movie is honest enough to tell me that if I went for the things I wanted years ago I would not have gotten them, but maybe now I might get some of them. It's not exactly saying that it's never too late to chase after your dreams, but if you get loaded enough on drugs or booze or life experience you might just grow the stones to get some version of the life you wanted.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


No Strings Attached [**] and I Spit On Your Grave (2010) [***]

More often than not women dictate the terms of a relationship. Usually because they're sexier and we'll heed to their every beck and call, but also because we men are usually the dumber and more primitive half of the coupling. These films, No Strings Attached and I Spit on Your Grave [2010], are two instances where I think women lose complete control, but also monogamy rears its head and stakes a claim pretty loudly on the modern relationship type landscape.

First, we have director Ivan Reitman's No Strings Attached which allows Natalie Portman a rare opportunity to flex comic muscles and allows for the third film in a row in which Ashton Kutcher really owns as a leading man. He's likable without seeming bland or putzy and he has a couple of killer lines. My favorite line comes a few scenes after we discover that his perpetually stoned father is dating one of his former girlfriends: "I can't date you either. You're not my dad's type."

The plot such as it is involves summer camp acquaintances who reunite some twenty-odd years later to rekindle (or kindle, depending on your view of their first meeting as pre-teens and college students, respectively) a relationship. It starts out as blissful, consequenceless sex but soon feelings enter the mix and while Kutcher submits to the feelings immediately Portman does not and thus the typical complications of romantic comedy ensues.

Along the way there are a few laughs to be had, but not a great many. We often get to watch likable people being the best they can be in a movie that isn't terribly interested in letting people be the best versions of themselves that they can be.

I like that the movie plays up Kutcher's nice guy image but never makes him feel weak for wanting what he wants. The movie, in fact, respects the kind of guy he is so much that fate intervenes in any attempt to undermine his values. Kutcher isn't one hundred percent sold on the notion of monogamy at first, but from the beginning his attempt at casual sex ends in a drunken, crying sex-free stupor and his 'no strings attached' relationship with Portman is still defined by his exclusivity to her.

Portman's character is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a raging slut but she is unpleasant in the character's initial scenes and remains resistant to the pull of love in such a way that it becomes hard to root for them as a couple. There is a moment where Portman not only insists on abandoning their Valentine's Day date, but needs to be taken home by the very man she is dumping.

As I knew the film would ultimately end with their coupling and I couldn't get behind them as a couple, I had to remove myself emotionally from the rest of the proceedings. I don't like not being emotionally involved in romantic comedies, particularly the more vulgar ones, because they distill emotions more honestly and despite all the character woes they give an honest treatment to things like fear of commitment or what have you. "No Strings Attached" finds a way to make a selfless devotion to one person feel like a bad choice.

There is little doubt that writer Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) has had men wrapped around her finger before. That's not to say that Jennifer is a tease or deliberately manipulates men, but she's definitely so pretty that considering it a foregone conclusion is not so out of line. She's definitely sweet and cute and a welcome breath of sexiness for the backwater area she is calling home as she writes her next book. But the men in that area are just forward enough and unkempt enough that they can come across as unnerving; what causes panic in Jennifer is something the locals call an uppity city bitch-ness. A kind punishable by verbal abuse and, eventually, rape. It seems to be a pretty frank resentment of the way women consciously (or not) hold sway over men.

While the men in the film certainly seek to usurp her power (though it is not explicitly the power of a sexual being but rather the power of a "city bitch") and in so doing the film becomes a rallying cry against the unfair amount of power females yield in relationships both real and imagined, it's strongest argument actually becomes one in favor of monogamy.


One of Jennifer's assailants is the town sheriff, who happens to be married and skips out on church to attend to some business involving the debasement of a visiting local writer. As the film's only married and committed character he later receives a punishment (that a lesser director might have decided to heap on the female victim with as much detail) akin to the rape he committed earlier in the film. He's actually the only character to receive a rape in kind and while he wasn't the only character to rape her he is the one to get the most literal sin turned against the sinner type punishment. It's no accident that. If monogamy is against our basic biology then why are we capable of higher thought? If one doesn't endeavor to evolve what's the point of giving them capacity to make choices? It seems like an awful waste of a brain if you ask me. I guess the question goes both ways, if we're so evolved why do we do such animalistic things? If we are given the tools to reason then I suppose we have to decide these things for ourselves. But I think both movies suggest that we have evolved past animal urges or that maybe the animal urge is to restore monogamy. It's an interesting discussion point no matter how wrong I probably am.

That being said, the I Spit On Your Grave remake is worth discussing for other reasons.

I like that the film shows restraint in graphically depicting the abuses heaped on Jennifer Hills. A lot of times they degrade her with insults and treat her less than human, but they don't go for ripping the clothes off right away. When her attackers mock her writing it seems like a bigger, more devastating exposure than anything they can do to her body because what they choose to read aloud is like pulling a secret out of her. Butler, I think, plays these violations very well.

For something that falls in the torture porn vein the murders aren't terribly graphic in the way they would be if the film were from Alexander Aja or any of the Saw filmmakers, but they have a very precise way of getting to the point and being very literal. The filmmaker has his eyes pried open with fish hooks, the sheriff receives a rape in kind, the mentally handicapped guy is the recipient of failed strangulation, another is drowned, etc. I like to think that the on the nose quality of the murders comes from the fact that the heroine is a writer so she makes things literal, brings them full circle and even relies on various and sundry cliches like sneaking up on people and knocking them out with lug wrenches or baseball bats. I want to believe that her job allows her to tap into creative impulses and the familiar. It's easier believing these things come from a creative reservoir she has as a writer than being the terrible things that everyone has simmering just below their own surface. It probably isn't true, she's as guilty of having an animal just below her skin as the rest of us, but if we can believe for a second that she learned this because of her job and not because we all have an evil nature then we can believe we've evolved past an animal state, we can believe in monogamy and even that what we suffer doesn't truly destroy us. It pushes us through to hope.