#117 - Forbidden Worlds
1931 - 2010
Before we begin this week, there is some news that may be of interest to horror fans (a group that seems to include more than a couple of you). The venerable horror institution Fangoria magazine has teamed up with Lightning Media to distribute a new line of horror flicks under the Fangoria Fright Fest banner, not unlike the After Dark Horrorfest or Ghost House Underground. Fangoria’s initial line-up of eight movies will be released to DVD and VOD on September 28. But you can go right now to www.FangoriaFrightFest.com to check out trailers and vote for one of the flicks to receive a limited theatrical release in late July. If After Dark and Ghost House have taught me anything, we should expect a mixed bag. But Fangoria’s line-up includes some impressive names, including Fragile from director Jaume Balaguero (director of the [REC] films) starring Calista Flockhart, the great Jeffrey Combs in Dark House, and an intriguing-looking Australian thriller called Road Kill, so there could be some good stuff in here. I’ll probably be checking out some of these titles for this year’s Hell Plaza Oktoberfest beginning in October, so as Mr. Bill Hunt would say, stay tuned…
NOW IN THEATRES
The Killer Inside Me
If I were to compile a list of my favorite performances of the last decade, Casey Affleck’s work in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford would almost certainly make the top ten. As Bob Ford, Affleck found the humanity within this legendary, contradictory figure. Anyone can play an unlikable character. Affleck made us understand why people didn’t like him and in the process, made us sympathize with him more than we may have thought possible. It’s little wonder that director Michael Winterbottom decided to cast Affleck as sheriff’s deputy Lou Ford, a quiet man with a hidden mean streak, in his adaptation of The Killer Inside Me. And while Affleck delivers another top-notch performance, this time the rest of the movie isn’t quite up to his level.
Based on the novel by the great Jim Thompson, Winterbottom allows the movie to play out languidly, like a porch-side story on a too-hot Texas afternoon. It’s a bit of a gamble, taking what is essentially a pulp crime novel and allowing it to stretch out with no apparent urgency, and it works up to a point. Affleck’s soft, high voice and down-home charm isn’t hiding anything from the audience. The title lets you know what to expect, so there’s tension from the very beginning as you wait for him to strike. When the violence does erupt, it is sudden and shocking. In addition to making the violence more potent, the film’s laidback mood gives Affleck a chance to define and establish his character. We not only get to see what makes him tick, we see the wheels turning in his mind as he puts things together.
But the movie’s pace works against it in some key areas. Granted, the film is more of a character study than a plot-driven narrative but some important elements are allowed to drift too far apart. It’s also occasionally difficult to even figure out how much time has elapsed, whether it’s days, weeks or months. Other cast members, including Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Elias Koteas, Ned Beatty and Simon Baker, do fine work but they all seem to be following Affleck’s lead. Ford is supposed to be a fairly dull, unobtrusive man, but he seems no more or less laconic than anyone else in town. Only Tom Bower really registers as Sheriff Maples and his performance gets more interesting as it goes along. Bill Pullman also appears briefly toward the end, injecting some welcome, much-needed energy into the final act.
It’s interesting to note that Stanley Kubrick was a great admirer of The Killer Inside Me and at one time entertained the idea of filming it himself (Jim Thompson worked on the scripts for Kubrick’s The Killing and Paths Of Glory). It isn’t hard to imagine that Kubrick’s version might have felt something like Winterbottom’s film, heavy on mood and focused on character. But I suspect Kubrick’s film would have been more dynamic than what Winterbottom has come up with. Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me is a perfectly fine film and worth seeing, but it never quite grabs you the way a great pulp novel should. (* * *)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
In a review of Spencer Tracy’s Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde for last year’s Hell Plaza Oktoberfest, I mentioned that I’d never seen a truly great Jekyll and Hyde movie. I expected to get several recommendations. Instead, one lone reader contacted me and suggested I check out Jekyll, a 2007 BBC mini-series. This reader is my new best friend. I had never heard of this series before and most likely would have never checked it out if he hadn’t steered me toward it. Jekyll is far and away the best version of this story I’ve ever seen and one of the best television productions I’ve run across in years.
James Nesbitt stars as Dr. Tom Jackman, a modern-day descendant of Henry Jekyll (which is odd, since Jekyll had no children). Like his ancestor, Jackman has his own dual personality problem, although his Mr. Hyde doesn’t require a potion. He simply emerges, causing Jackman no end of anguish. Jackman works as a research scientist for the Klein and Utterson Institute and it turns out they know all about Hyde. In fact, the only reason he was hired was so that the Institute could one day get their hands on Hyde. Needless to say, this is much easier said than done.
Written by Steven Moffat (probably best known to American audiences for his work on the most recent Doctor Who series), Jekyll is an ingenious twist on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale. It’s full of subtle, clever winks to the original but early on establishes its own identity. Moffat’s dialogue is funny and sharp and every single character is a vivid, fully-drawn personality. Gina Bellman is wonderful as Jackman’s wife, Claire. She’s strong, independent, sexy and smart. Meera Syal and Fenella Woolgar are absolutely delightful as a pair of lesbian private detectives who come to Jackman’s aid. But the best reason to watch is James Nesbitt, whose performance…or really, performances are nothing short of extraordinary. I’ve never before seen a version of this story that depicts Mr. Hyde with such minimal makeup. The differences between Jackman and Hyde are all in Nesbitt’s performance: his posture, his smile, his walk. Everything changes and it’s simply breathtaking. In one scene, Jackman transforms into Hyde in a single close-up shot. No cuts, no special effects, just Nesbitt’s face. No transformation scene has ever been more convincing.
The British television model has allowed for some brilliant, innovative shows to be produced, from the work of Dennis Potter in the 70s and 80s to comedies like The Office and Extras. Jekyll earns a place among these masterpieces. The six hours fly past and while the climax is completely satisfying, I was still left wanting more. This is television at its finest. Rent it, buy it, do what you have to do. Just make seeing Jekyll a priority. It’s first class all the way. (* * * *)
Thanks to Niels Hansen for this week’s TFTQ recommendation! As always, if you know a movie that needs more attention, send it my way. Send me an email, join the club at JET’s Facebook page, or telepathically beam it directly into my brain. My PsychicTwitter name is @JahnkesBrain.