Starring Kathy Bates, James Caan, Richard Farnsworth
Directed by Rob Reiner
Distributed by Scream Factory
With so many Stephen King adaptations being produced nearly every year, who could have guessed that 2017 would be a renaissance for fans of the legendary author’s work on both the big and small screen? Not only is there a glut of King media available to audiences, but much of it is – gasp – quite good. There seems no better time to revisit the upper echelon of his filmed material, and director Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990) is unquestionably one of the greats. Firmly anchored by an Academy Award-winning performance from Kathy Bates, Misery is a lengthy exercise in tension that builds and builds until arriving at an explosive climax that gives viewers the catharsis they have waited 100 minutes to receive. Screenwriter William Goldman and Reiner turned King’s visceral story into a lean screenplay, emphasizing the cat-and-mouse interplay between Bates and co-star James Caan. The resulting film captivated (pun intended?) and horrified audiences twenty-seven years ago and, even with the passage of time, proves it can still induce crippling anxiety in newcomers and repeat viewers alike.
Paul Sheldon (James Caan), a world famous romance novelist, has just finished banging away on his typewriter, completing his latest novel, a personal tale outside his usual wheelhouse. He smokes a single cigarette (a tradition) and hits the road, hoping to get out of Silver Creek, CO in time to avoid an incoming blizzard. Paul does not avoid the blizzard, wiping out on the winding mountain road and flipping his car. Injured and unconscious, Paul is saved from the elements by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a former nurse who lives in isolation nearby. Lucky for him she just happened to be in the area where he crashed… or maybe luck has nothing to do with it? Annie drags Paul back to her place, sets his broken legs, and begins to get him on the mend.
Paul comes to a couple days later and asks to get in touch with the outside world, however, according to Annie all phone lines are down and the roads are blocked. He’ll just have to be her guest until things get cleared up. And lucky for him, Annie is his “number one fan”, having read and celebrated each of his novels featuring her favorite literary character, Misery Chastain. Paul is initially charmed by Annie’s altruism and affectation for his work, so he agrees to let her read his new manuscript. This act of confidence goes poorly when Annie becomes so offended by Paul’s use of profanity she snaps, scolding him as one would a child. But that is nothing compared to how she responds after reading the latest Misery novel, wherein the character dies at the end. Distraught and beyond delusional, Annie locks Paul up in his room and demands no less than he write her an entirely new novel, bringing Misery back from the dead.
Paul makes every attempt possible to escape or alert the world of where he is, but with broken legs (and soon, worse) and nobody within crawling distance his only hope appears to lie with the local sheriff, Buster (Richard Farnsworth), who just can’t let Sheldon’s case lie fallow. Annie is a wily one, though, and Paul is going to have to outwit this obsessive ogre if he wants to have any chance at survival.
Give the subject matter it seems obvious Misery holds a closer place in King’s heart than most of his work. This is why he resisted repeated attempts to adapt the book for film until Rob Reiner made an inquiry. It was only because Reiner had so successfully adapted Stand By Me (1984) that King made an exception – and, of course, the result is one of the best films in his cinematic oeuvre. As far as King adaptations go, Misery is unparalleled in terms of wringing continued tension out of a screenplay. Reiner builds and builds, constantly teasing his audience with a taste of freedom or reprieve for Paul, each time scuttling hopes until the conflict reaches a fever pitch; then, glorious release. Every man and woman watching cannot help but to live vicariously through Paul in that climactic moment. “Eat it! Eat it till you choke, you sick twisted fuck!”
Bates was suggested to Reiner by Goldman and, really, he could not have cast the role any better. Bates, then relatively unknown, not only conveys the obsession and madness of a delusional fan, but thanks to her, er, heft she looks like a match for any man who doesn’t have his full strength. James Caan is famous for playing tough guys – he’ll always be Sonny Corleone in most eyes – but it’s no stretch to think Bates could easily get the best of him in his fragile state. Annie is a woman of principles and manners, but when Paul strays outside her picture perfect mental imagery she snaps like a twig.
Caan, for his part, does a great job bringing Sheldon to life. His desire to leave Annie’s under any circumstances possible is palpable; unimaginable tension simmers just beneath the surface of his faux smile and appreciation of Annie’s home care. He knows he (literally) doesn’t have a leg to stand on, and rather than be rash about the situation he attempts to ameliorate it whenever possible to prevent Annie from doing him further harm – or worse. Interestingly, Caan was only offered the role after at least a dozen big-name actors turned it down.
Personally, my earliest memory of Misery was during a childhood ritual of peeping over the upstairs bannister, spying as my parents would watch R-rated movies they’d rented from Wherehouse on a Saturday night. During the moment when Annie fires her shotgun for the first and only time, I distinctly recall my dad yelling out, “Ooohhh, you rotten bitch!” All these years later, after a half-dozen viewings of the film, I still share that sentiment.
Touting a “new 4K restoration from original film elements” (which I’ll assume to be a 35mm negative), the 1.85:1 1080p image is a stellar upgrade over previous DVD and Blu-ray editions. The image is immaculate, revealing even more of the minutiae in Annie’s delicate home décor. Film grain moves organically and smoothly, lending a cinematic aesthetic to this pristine picture. Contrast and black levels are both solid and stable, never wavering throughout. The cold, woodsy palette has been perfectly replicated here, too. Unless you are the type to go over transfers with a fine-tooth comb searching for issues, this is exceptional in every way.
An English DTS-HD Master Audio track carries both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound options. Most of the activity comes from the front speakers, and this is mainly a dialogue-driven affair, so either track will get the job done with equal results. Dialogue is hiss-free and clean. Marc Shaiman’s score pulls viewers through a range of emotions, perfectly complementing the tense on-screen action. Subtitles are available in English.
There are two audio commentary tracks present; one with director Rob Reiner, the other with screenwriter William Goldman.
“Interview with Director Rob Reiner” – Reiner discusses his career and the events leading up to adapting “Misery”, with plenty of talk devoted to King’s input, casting, aspirations for his take, and more.
“Interview with Special Make-up Effects Artist Greg Nicotero” – Hear all about how the FX crew put Paul Sheldon through the ringer, including Nicotero’s somber anecdote about how they built and rigged two ankles for the infamous hobbling scene but Reiner only kept one in the finished film.
The remainder of the bonus features comes from MGM’s previous special edition DVD, and with the exception of the first two they’re all disposable. These include “Misery Loves Company”, “Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour Featurette”, “Diagnosing Annie Wilkes Featurette”, “Advice for the Stalked Featurette”, “Profile of a Stalker Featurette”, “Celebrity Stalkers Featurette”, “Anti-Stalking Laws Featurette”.
Two trailers in HD have also been included.
- NEW 4K Restoration From The Original Film Elements
- NEW Interview With Director Rob Reiner
- NEW Interview With Special Makeup Effects Artist Greg Nicotero
- Audio Commentary With Rob Reiner
- Audio Commentary With Screenwriter William Goldman
- “Misery Loves Company” Featurette
- “Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour” Featurette
- “Diagnosing Annie Wilkes” Featurette
- “Advice For The Stalked” Featurette
- “Profile Of A Stalker” Featurette
- “Celebrity Stalkers” Featurette
- “Anti-Stalking Laws” Featurette
Wrought with tension from start to finish and cast with exceptional actors, “Misery” is among the very best Stephen King fans could hope to find on home video. Scream Factory’s latest release hobbles previous editions thanks to stunning a/v quality and a couple new bonus features that greatly improve upon MGM’s lackluster features from before.
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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