Tag Archives: C

THE TURNING

Producers: Scott Bernstein, Roy Lee and Seth William Meier   Director: Floria Sigismondi   Screenplay: Carey W. Haynes and Chad Hayes   Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Barbara Marten, Joely Richardson, Niall Greig Fulton, Denna Thomsen and Kim Adis   Distributor: Universal Pictures

Grade:  C-

Henry James’s chilling 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw” has been adapted many times in numerous forms; among the finest are Benjamin Britten’s marvelous 1954 opera and one of the cinematic versions, Jack Clayton’s eerie 1961 “The Innocents.”  This misguided updating of the tale, unhappily, does not join their illustrious company; it reduces James’s classic to a fairly typical modern haunted-house movie, with lots of pro-forma jump scares and cheap gotcha moments.  

For some reason screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes, who scored big with “The Conjuring,” have chosen to situate the action in 1994, referencing the suicide of Kurt Cobain repeatedly to pinpoint things.  The decision does allow for the inclusion of some period grunge rock on the soundtrack, though, which is perhaps all the reason they felt they needed.  Or maybe they were trying to establish a mood of foreboding via a quick pop culture reference.  (One might note that given the film that follows, an opening tone of foreboding is quite appropriate.)

In any event, the updated “governess” is immediately introduced—she’s Kate (Mackenzie Davis), a young girl with a perpetually downcast look, perhaps because her mother (Joey Richardson) is in a mental institution.  She informs her incredulous roommate/best friend (Kim Adis) that she’s taken a job as tutor to a young girl named Flora Fairchild (Brooklynn Prince), who’s recently lost her parents.

So Kate goes off to the opulent but depressing Fairchild estate, where she finds the child in the care of flinty housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten), who’s for some reason the sole British character left by the Hayes brothers.  Kate and Flora seem to be getting along reasonably well until the girl’s older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) arrives, having been expelled from boarding school for attacking a classmate.  He dotes on his sister, but has a vaguely sinister personality, is subject to sudden mood swings and eggs Flora to collaborate in wicked pranks, mostly directed against Kate. 

It eventually becomes clear that the children were deeply affected by their former governess Miss Jessel (Denna Thomsen), who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and their riding instructor Peter Quint (Niall Greig Fulton), described by Grose as a malevolent fellow who died suddenly in a fall from his horse; Flora is terrified to leave the estate, certainly that she’ll die if she tries to, while Miles’s brooding, often nasty conduct seems inspired by his idolization of Quint.

But it’s not merely the memory of Jessel and Quint that haunts the place; Kate becomes convinced that their spirits are actually present, threatening her.  The rest of the film is basically devoted to watching Kate become more and more unhinged as her fear escalates.  She thinks she sees phantom figures and in one instance actually finds Jessel’s drowned body in the lake.  She finds herself trapped in horrifying situations—which, of course, turn out to be that old horror-movie standby, nightmares.  When she tries to take the children beyond the grounds, Flora demands to be let out of the car.  And though she tries to reach Miles, he remains hostile and at times positively dangerous.  It’s obvious that the film is careening toward a tragic outcome, and it does—or at least perhaps does.

To give the picture credit where it’s due, it looks quite attractive in David Ungaro’s lustrous widescreen cinematography, and Paki Smith’s production design is fine.  But editor Glenn Garland has trouble giving shape to the individual episodes director Floria Sigismondi has fashioned, and both the visual effects and Nathan Barr’s score are at best adequate.

Among the cast Wolfhard, who’s becoming the go-to teen for roles requiring an aura of strangeness, comes off best, though Prince pulls off Flora’s changes of mood.  One might also enjoy hollow-cheeked Marten’s portrayal of stern, stuffy Grose (a very different character from the one in most versions of the tale).  As for Davis, the poor thing shows a willingness to be put through the emotional wringer again and again, but comes across as a rather simpering sort.       

“The Turning” ends on a note that will leave most viewers muttering “What the [expletive deleted]?” as the final credits suddenly roll.  One can interpret it as representing either the filmmakers’ throwing up their hands in despair, or as the logical, if rather silly, conclusion to the story that’s been told for ninety minutes—in which case it’s just about as satisfying as Bobby Ewing’s infamous shower reappearance in “Dallas.”  In any event, it’s likely to send you home wishing you’d watched “The Innocents” instead.

In fact, it would be best to wait to catch the movie later on television, if you watch it at all.  Then you could turn “The Turning” off.       

THE GENTLEMEN

Producers: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Bill Block   Director: Guy Ritchie   Screenplay: Guy Ritchie   Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Chidi Ajufo, Jason Wong, Britanny Ashworth, Samuel West, Geraldine Somerville, Eliot Sumner, Lyne Renée, Chris Evangelou, Bugzy Malone and Tom Wu   Distributor: STXfilms

Grade:  C

After a decade toiling in the Hollywood big-budget trenches with pictures like the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes franchise, a reboot of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and, most recently, the elephantine live-action remake of Disney’s “Aladdin,” Guy Ritchie returns to his roots in British gangster comedy—his “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” was a sensation of sorts in 1999, and he followed that up, to ever-diminishing returns, with “Snatch,” “Revolver” and “Rocknrolla” before gravitating in other directions.  So “The Gentlemen” represents a homecoming of sorts for him, and those who retain affection for his early work will doubtlessly embrace it.

Others, though, will be less enthusiastic.  Like his early pictures, this is a bustling but smug and very nasty piece of work that wrings guilty laughs from sudden bursts of violence, crude situations, and improbably flamboyant dialogue.  It’s no wonder Ritchie was so often compared to the early Tarantino.

It begins with one of its many bangs when Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is apparently assassinated in a London pub.  Pearson is an American expatriate who built a marijuana empire after coming to study at Oxford, where he began selling pot to rich classmates.  He and his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) made their fortune through an alliance with financially strained British aristocrats, who have allowed him to grow vast amounts of weed in subterranean gardens located beneath the grounds of their stately manors.

Pearson has decided to get out of the business, though, and is negotiating the sale of all his assets to wealthy nerd Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong).  While that deal is ongoing, he’s also approached by nasty young Dry Eye (Henry Golding) to buy the empire, presumably at the behest of his boss, heroin kingpin Lord George (Tom Wu).  That intervention threatens Pearson’s plan.

So does an assault on one of Mickey’s farms by a bunch of boxers-in-training who are pupils of a goofily principled Irishman called simply Coach (Colin Farrell).  Coach is incensed at what his boys have done, and offers his services to Pearson to make amends.

All of this, however, is relayed to the audience not directly, but through the narration of a sleazy investigator named Fletcher (Hugh Grant).  He’s been hired to get dirt on Pearson by scummy tabloid publisher Big Dave (Eddie Marsan), who feels he was dissed by Mickey at a posh social function.  Fletcher believes that what he’s collected via his snooping can be very damaging to Pearson, and so visits Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) to announce his intent to blackmail the drug lord big-time. 

Fletcher doesn’t present his version of what’s happening straightforwardly, though, but in snatches that can involve flashbacks, speculative inventions and “rewrites” deriving from the fact that he’s constructing it in the form of a screenplay titled “Bush” that he hopes to sell to the revived Miramax Studio (a rather too cute in-joke, given that it’s actually a producing partner on “The Gentlemen”—posters from other Ritchie movies are also shown occasionally in the background to provide further nudges to the ribs).  That also allows for some rather obvious cinematic allusions, to Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” among others.

One other plot point has to be mentioned.  That involves Mickey’s decision to aid one of his aristocratic partners (Samuel West) by retrieving his daughter (Eliot Sumner), a heroin addict, from the guys she’s living with.  Raymond will succeed in extracting her, but at a cost: one of the guys, Aslan (Danny Griffin), is accidentally killed in the process—a fact that will have important ramifications for an explosive finale that also explains the initial assassination attempt on Pearson.

In constructing his screenplay, Ritchie shuffles together all these various plot threads in combinations that are meant to surprise as their interconnections become clear, always punctuated by lots of raucous action and crude humor.  Then as director he stages much of it frantically (aided to that end by Alan Stewart’s ever-snappy cinematography and James Herbert’s rabid editing), though the conversations between Fletcher and Raymond provide pauses throughout.  Even there, however, there’s a rat-a-tat quality in the form of Fletcher’s insistent ramblings, which Grant, reveling in the seediness of the character, makes the picture’s comic highlights, and the secretly-recorded clips he shows Raymond on his laptop.  Naturally, Ritchie ends things with a series of false feints and wacky reversals (a particularly ugly one involving the fate of Big Dave) that register with only mild success.

There’s some fun to be had in “The Gentlemen,” especially in Grant’s playing against type as the slimy Fletcher.  The rest of the cast do what’s demanded of them with energy, as well—in many cases (Golding and Farrell, for instance), too much so. 

But overall, this is a movie that comes across as entirely too pleased with how outrageous it’s being, while in fact it’s a pale imitation of Ritchie’s earlier work, much less clever than it pretends to be.  In the end “The Gentlemen” is a “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” that misfires more often than it hits the target.