Review: ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ (2022), starring Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell

November 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jack O’Connell and Emma Corrin in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Netflix)

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (2022)

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1918 to 1919, in the United Kingdom, the dramatic film “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Lady Constance Chatterley’s sex life with her husband comes to an abrupt end after his World War I injuries leave him with paraplegia, and he encourages her to get pregnant by another man because he wants an heir, but the two spouses are not prepared when she unexpectedly falls in love with her secret lover, who is the couple’s gamekeeper employee.

Culture Audience: “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the D.H. Lawrence novel on which the movie is based, as well as people who are interested in erotic love stories that are set in the early 20th century.

Emma Corrin and Matthew Duckett in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (Photo by Seamus Ryan/Netflix)

Gorgeously filmed and terrifically acted, this version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is the best movie adaptation of the book so far. Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell give sensuous and romantic performances as the secret lovers who are the story’s main characters. Everything about the movie is authentically detailed to the story’s setting of the United Kingdom in 1918 and 1919, even though the movie’s pace tends to drag in some areas. This movie version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” should please fans of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel of the same name (on which this movie is based), as well as viewers who might not have read the book but are interested in early 20th century stories about torrid love affairs and women who unapologetically live their truths. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and then made the rounds at other film festivals in 2022, including the BFI London Film Festival and AFI Fest in Los Angeles.

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is the fourth movie adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence book. The first “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” movie is director Just Jaeckin’s 1981 drama, starring Sylvia Kristel as Lady Chatterley and Nicholas Clay as Oliver Mellors, who becomes Lady Chatterley’s lover. Then came director Pascale Ferran’s 2006 French-language film “Lady Chatterley,” starring Marina Hands and Jean-Louis Coullo’ch as the two illicit lovers. There’s also the 2015 BBC TV-movie “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” directed by Jed Mercurio, and starring Holliday Grainger and Richard Madden as the lady and her lover.

The 2022 movie version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” directed by de Clermont-Tonnerre is a cut above the rest, in terms of overall quality on all levels. This movie is also faithful to the plot and tone of the book. As the non-conformist Lady Chatterley, Corrin’s wonderfully expressive performance skillfully conveys the inner turmoil and outer frustrations of an aristocratic wife who is often emotionally stifled in an environment where her husband and society dictate how she must live her life. As the movie’s title character O’Connell is pitch-perfect as the working-class employee who is acutely aware of the social-class minefield he is entering by having an affair with his wealthy employer’s wife.

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” begins with the 1918 wedding of Constance “Connie” Reid to Clifford Chatterley (played by Matthew Duckett), a wealthy heir to a fortune made from mining. Because Clifford has the title of lord, Connie will have the title of lady when she becomes his wife. The wedding is a happy occasion, because Connie and Clifford seem to genuinely be in love.

But there are some clues about possible trouble in this marriage. On Connie and Clifford’s wedding day, Connie’s older sister Hilda (played by Faye Marsay) has a private conversation with Connie, who had her heart broken by a German ex-boyfriend. It’s implied that Clifford is a rebound relationship for Connie, and they had a whirlwind courtship. This courtship is never seen in the movie.

Hilda tells Connie with concern in her voice, “I don’t want you to get hurt again.” Connie assures Hilda that she made the right decision to choose Clifford as a husband: “He’s kind and thoughtful, and he makes me feel safe.” But is there romantic passion between Connie and Clifford? Connie is about to find out that her marriage to Clifford will come up very short in that area.

At the wedding reception, Clifford’s widower father Sir Geoffrey Chatterley (played by Alistair Findlay) gives a toast to the assembled guests. Observant viewers will notice that behind Geoffrey’s cheerful smile and pleasant mannerisms are a few signs of discontent. One of the signs is when Geoffrey has thanked many of the guests who donated their butter and sugar rations “to help us celebrate.” It’s an indication that although the Chatterley family is wealthy, World I has taken a toll on the family’s finances.

Before making the toast, Geoffrey also makes a snide remark about Connie marrying Clifford (who has no siblings) for the Chatterley family’s sprawling and rural Wragby estate, located in the Midlands of England. Connie laughs off this possible insult and tells Geoffrey and the rest of the crowd that she and Clifford have married for love. Geoffrey’s comment is also an indication that Connie was into a lower-ranking artisocratic family. Connie’s father is Sir Malcolm Reid (played by Anthony Brophy), who approves of the marriage and is briefly shown in the wedding scene. Geoffrey’s toast includes this statement: “To the next heir of Chatterley.”

After the wedding, Connie and Clifford live in London. In their bedroom, she asks him, “Do you want children, Clifford?” He answers, “Yeah, someday. I’m assuming you would.” Connie replies, “I think so, yeah.” The movie doesn’t ever show Connie and Clifford having sex, but it’s implied that they had a healthy sex life before Clifford went off to serve in the military for World War I.

Clifford goes away to war soon after the wedding. “I’ll write to you every day,” he promises Connie at the train station. But when Clifford comes back from the war, after it ends in November 1918, the marriage will be changed considerably. Clifford was wounded in the war and has paralysis from the waist down. He has to use a wheelchair to move around. Clifford’s widower father Geoffrey died during the war, and Clifford has inherited the Ragby estate.

Clifford and Connie both seem to take his paraplegia in stride and agree that he needs to be in a less hectic environment than in a city. They move from London to the Ragby estate, which had largely been unoccupied since the death of Clifford’s father. “I think he died of chagrin,” Clifford says of his father not living long enough to have a grandchild.

At the Ragby estate, Connie and Clifford promptly hire several new employees, now that Clifford and Connie will be living there full-time. One of the people they hire is Oliver Mellors (played by O’Connell), who served as an army lieutenant in the war and has been hired to live and work on the Ragby estate as a gamekeeper. When Connie and Oliver first meet, there’s no attraction between the. It’s strictly an employer/employee relationship.

At first, Clifford seems to be good spirits in adjusting to his post-war physical condition. He’s a writer who decides to expand a short story that he started while attending Cambridge University into a novel. The novel gets published, but Clifford goes into a state of self-criticism and despair after he reads a newspaper article that has a negative review of the book. Connie tries to cheer him up, but this negative review has seemingly damaged Clifford’s self-esteem and confidence as a writer.

Clifford is also feeling insecure because his paraplegia has made him sexually impotent. Connie is as understanding as possible when her attempts to have sex with him end with Clifford stopping and saying, “I can’t.” But this lack of a sex life eventually has serious repercussions on their marriage.

Clifford expects Connie to be his nursemaid because he doesn’t want to pay to hire someone to do this work. (it’s one of many signs that Clifford is a cheapskate.) But the strain of taking care of him has left Connie in poor health. She lost an alarming amount of weight, which has lowered her energy level and immune system.

Hilda comes to visit and is so horrified by Connie’s physical condition, she insists that Clifford hire a nursemaid. Hilda thinks the best choice is a middle-aged widow named Mrs. Bolton (played by Joely Richardson), who was Clifford’s nanny when Clifford was a child. Hilda is strong-willed and very opinionated. Hilda lets it be known that she thinks Clifford could be a more considerate husband to Connie.

With Connie now having more free time without the stress of being Clifford’s nursemaid, her health starts to improve, even if the couple’s sex life hasn’t. But then, Clifford drops a bombshell proposal on Connie: He tells her more than anything, he wants to have an heir (preferably a son), so asks her how she would feel about getting pregnant by another man.

Connie is completely shocked and says she can’t do have sex with another man because she and Clifford are married. However, Clifford cheerfully tells her that he will have her blessing to have an extramarital affair, as long as she’s discreet about it. He also tells Connie that she can choose who her lover will be, but he doesn’t want to know who it is or any other details about the affair. He also compares this arrangement of having sex with a man who’ll impregnate her to “like taking a trip to the dentist.”

At this point in the marriage, Connie just wants to make Clifford happy. And although she’s uncomfortable with this plan, she goes along with it because she also wants to become a parent. Connie takes a mild interest in Oliver, who is a polite and reserved employee who lives in a cottage with his dog Flossie. Connie asks a schoolteacher acquaintance named Mrs. Flint (played by Ella Hunt) what Oliver’s story is.

And that’s how Connie finds out that Oliver is married but separated from his wife Bertha. According to Mrs. Flint, Bertha cheated on Oliver with several men when he was serving in the war. And now, Bertha is living with another man, but she won’t give Oliver a divorce. Connie’s German ex-boyfriend also cheated on her, so she immediately feels empathy for Oliver.

Connie comes up with excuses to visit Oliver or walk near his cottage. The first time she shows up at his place, she’s impressed that he’s reading a James Joyce novel. Over time, Connie discovers that Oliver is a caring and emotionally intelligent person, but he’s very wary about what Connie wants from him and how risky it would be for his employment status if they had an affair.

Of course, it should be no secret to viewers that Connie and Oliver eventually become lovers. When they begin their affair, she doesn’t tell him that Clifford gave her permission to have a lover so that she could get pregnant. She doesn’t tell Oliver because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings by making him feel like he’s being used like a stud.

However, what Connie thought would be a “no strings attached” sexual relationship turns out to be much more complicated when she and Oliver start to fall in love with each other. Just as Clifford requested, Connie keeps the relationship a secret from him and other people. But the more emotionally distant Clifford gets, the more emotionally intimate Connie and Oliver get with each other.

Clifford seems to care more about writing, listening to the radio, and spending time with Mrs. Bolton (whom he sees as a mother figure/confidante) than he cares about spending time and paying attention to Connie. The movie has more than one scene of Connie being in a room with Clifford, and he acts as if she’s not really there. Feeling neglected and unappreciated just fuels Connie’s passion for Oliver even more because he’s completely present and attentive to her every time that they are together.

When the novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was first published in 1928, it was controversial because its erotic content was considered too risqué, which resulted in the book being banned in some places. The Connie/Oliver sex scenes in 2022’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” gradually get more explicit as they fall deeper in love with each other. The lover scenes include occasional full-frontal nudity (male and female), but the nudity and sex scenes are artfully filmed and never look exploitative.

One of the most striking aspects of this version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is Benoît Delhomme’s immersive and beautiful cinematography, whose use of certain palettes (especially blue and green) give the movie a rich vibrancy that is perfectly suited for this type of movie. Also impressive are the production design led by Karen Wakefield and the costume design by Emma Fryer. The attention to detail is impeccable.

All of these technical aspects of the movie just complement how well all of the cast members play their roles. Oliver and Connie might come from different social classes, but they are both an emotionally wounded in their own ways and find unexpected love with each other. The question is how far their loyalty to each other will go.

Connie also begins to understand that the true definition of “class” should not be defined by how much money someone has but what type of character that person has. Clifford is spoiled, self-centered snob who believes that aristocrats should treat non-aristocrats as inferior. Connie feels the exact opposite way and thinks that people should be treated fairly and equally.

It’s later revealed that Clifford exploits his workers by paying them well below a living wage. The movie doesn’t go too much into these worker exploitation issues, although there are indications that Connie becomes more aware as time goes on of the Chatterley family’s role in worker exploitation of the miners in the community. For example, when Connie first meets Mrs. Flint on the street during May Day, Connie is disturbed by the sight of a miner strike/labor protest that briefly becomes volatile. Mrs. Flint tells Connie that these miners have come from out of town, but Connie finds out that the miner’s problems actually hit much closer to home than she originally thought.

One of the main reasons why the “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” novel was so controversial at the time it was published is because it’s about a woman in search of autonomy over her sexuality. The right to control and the freedom to express sexuality have gender double standards that haven’t completely gone away just because there’s been progress made in female empowerment issues since 1928. People can certainly debate the morals of marital infidelity (especially if a spouse gives permission for the other spouse to have sex outside the marriage) and how marital infidelity is presented in this story. However, what this movie demonstrates so well is that the real morality issue in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is whether or not Connie can truthfully live according to how she really feels.

Netflix released “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in select U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022. The movie will premiere on Netflix on December 2, 2022.

Review: ‘My Dad’s Christmas Date,’ starring Jeremy Piven

December 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jeremy Piven and Olivia-Mai Barrett in “My Dad’s Christmas Date” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“My Dad’s Christmas Date”

Directed by Mick Davis

Culture Representation: Taking place in York, England, the comedy/drama “My Dad’s Christmas Date” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 16-year-old British girl tries to help her lonely widower American father by signing him up for a dating service without his permission.

Culture Audience: “My Dad’s Christmas Date” will appeal primarily to people who like movies about father/daughter relationships that blend semi-realistic comedy with sentimental drama.

Joely Richardson and Jeremy Piven in “My Dad’s Christmas Date” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The comedy/drama “My Dad’s Christmas Date” (directed by Mick Davis) is not as sappy and predictable as it first appears to be, but there are still some blatant formulaic, tearjerking moments in this family dramedy that’s elevated by a memorable performance by Olivia-Mai Barrett. The concept of the movie isn’t very original (a child plays matchmaker for a single and available parent), and any movie with the word “Christmas” in the title is almost guaranteed to have some schmaltz. Considering how badly it could’ve turned out, “My Dad’s Christmas Date” competently serves its purpose of offering inoffensive family entertainment without being too corny.

One of the better things about the movie is that it does not fall into the same predictable trap that comedic films tend to do when a teenager is one of the main characters: The teen is either a precocious brat or someone who’s too good to be true. Julia “Jules” Evans (played by Barrett), the 16-year-old at the center of “My Dad’s Christmas Date,” is neither. She’s a lot like girls her age: She’s embarrassed and frustrated by parental figures, and she’s just starting to find her identity when it comes to relationships.

Jules lives in York, England, with her American widower father David (played Jeremy Piven), a businessman who is lonely and sad enough to frequently drown his sorrows in plenty of alcohol. (He’s not an alcoholic though.) Jules and David are both grieving over the death of David’s wife/Jules’ mother, Claire Evans (played in flashbacks/hallucinations by Megan Brown), who passed away in a car accident two years before this story takes place.

Because Claire and David got married in York, it’s implied that David stayed in England permanently because of his relationship with Claire. (It’s never revealed in the movie how this couple met.) The marriage was very happy, and so Claire’s death has upended the lives of David and Jules.

Throughout the movie, David sees visions of Claire, and he goes in an almost trance-like state when he sees her. But thankfully, it’s not too over-the-top because Piven depicts it as someone basking in the glow of happy memories. The implication is clear though: David has had a hard time moving on with his life. And he thinks of Claire as an image of perfection that he doesn’t think he’ll be able to find again in another romantic partner.

Jules goes to a tuition school that requires that the students wear uniforms. Her best friend is an upbeat but gossipy fellow student at the school named Emma (played by Hadar Cats), who knows one of Jules’ biggest secrets: Jules has been dating her longtime crush Ben (played by Felix Butterwick), who has a reputation in the school for being a playboy. Later, it’s revealed in the story that Emma had been infatuated with Ben for at least two years before she and Ben started dating each other.

Jules isn’t sleeping with Ben, and there are big hints in the movie (based on what she says) that Jules is still a virgin and she wants to take things slow with Ben. Jules hasn’t told David about Ben being her boyfriend because she doesn’t know how to talk to her father about dating and the physical changes that are part of becoming a woman. She also thinks that David wouldn’t approve of Ben or any guy that she dates because David still wants to think of Jules as his little girl.

Jules is also at an age when she has to start thinking about future plans that she’ll have after she graduates from high school. Her desire for adult independence yet still being legally a child manifests in a frustration that’s very common with underage teenagers, when they argue with authority figures and act very embarrassed by what their own parents say or do. This parent/teenager bickering happens throughout “My Dad’s Christmas Date.”

For example, in an early scene where David is driving Jules to school, it’s close to the Christmas holiday season, and the arguing starts when Jules doesn’t want David to keep the car radio on while “Jingle Bells” is playing. The disagreement escalates into David expressing concern over Jules possibly making decisions because of peer pressure. “I want you to feel comfortable questioning things,” David tells Jules.

Jules snaps back, “Just because I’m a woman, I can’t think for myself, right?” David replies, “This has nothing to do with you being a woman. You know that.” Although the character of Claire is somewhat of a mystery in this story, there are signs that she influenced Jules to have a strong feminist sensibility, because it comes out in different ways throughout the story.

At school, Jules has a meeting with the headmaster Mr. Thompson (played by Roger Ashton-Griffiths), who expresses concern that Jules’ grades have gone downhill ever since her mother’s death. Mr. Thompson even has the trouble saying any words associated with the word death. It’s an awkward conversation, and Jules responds with her typical sarcasm, which she clearly inherited from her father.

Jules’ best friend Emma knows that Jules and David haven’t had a very good relationship lately. Emma thinks that David is sad and lonely and suggests that David should get set up with someone for a date. At first, Jules thinks it’s a bad idea, but she later changes her mind because she decides if David has the distraction of a new love, maybe he’ll be a happier person and he won’t get on her nerves as much as he does now.

Meanwhile, David is seen having a drink in a pub with his ex-girlfriend Sarah (played by Joely Richardson), who has reconnected with David since Claire died. Sarah and David’s dating relationship ended before David and Claire got together. Sarah went on to marry someone else.

For reasons that are never really explained in the movie, Claire despised Sarah, but David remained friendly with Sarah after he and Sarah ended their romantic relationship. Sarah is separated from her husband Mike (played by Michael Maloney), so she’s also feeling lonely and cynical about romance. Sarah and Mike are co-parenting their two kids (a girl and a boy), who look like they’re about 7 or 8 years old.

David complains to Sarah that he and Jules used to get along well, but now they constantly argue. He’s not sure if it’s because of typical teen rebellion, the death of Claire or both. David asks Sarah, “What’s the cure?” Sarah quips, “Menopause.”

Jules puts her plans into motion to find David a girlfriend or at least a date for the Christmas holiday season. Without David’s knowledge or permission, she signs him up for an online dating service. Jules also pretends to be David when she’s communicating with potential dates. While impersonating David, she makes arrangements for the women to meet David in public places while Jules is there too, so she can evaluate their potential.

It’s a scheme that results in women randomly coming up to David and knowing a lot about him but he doesn’t know who they are. Of course, these shenanigans can only last for so long before David finds out the reason for these not-so-random encounters. His reaction leads to even more drama, but it makes David confront some harsh realities that he’s been using Claire’s death as an excuse to feel sorry for himself and deprive himself of trying to find happiness.

Does that mean he’ll fall in love with someone new in this story? That question is answered in the movie, which doesn’t follow the usual stereotypes of what people think might happen. Jules also goes through some relationship drama with Ben. And there comes a time when she has to decide what she wants and deserves in a romance, as well as confront the reasons why she’s been hiding her relationship with Ben from her father.

“My Dad’s Christmas Date” was written by Brian Marchetti, Jack Marchetti and Toby Torlesse, who strike the right balance of a screenplay that can appeal to different generations of people. However, this movie is nowhere near being a masterpiece and has many elements of a made-for-TV movie, including a musical score that sometimes sounds like it was lifted from a generic sitcom. The movie could’ve veered into some insufferable slapstick, but thankfully, the story is mostly grounded in realism.

The father/daughter relationship is at the heart of the story. And what will appeal most to viewers is how relatable David and Jules are most of the time. Piven is known for playing sarcastic characters, but his role in the movie shows his range to portray vulnerability and someone who is damaged by grief. Barrett has the harder role, which she adeptly handles, because she has to express some very adult emotions for Jules without being too worldly for a relatively sheltered teenager.

David is not a perfect dad. He’s often gruff and cranky. Jules can be too. But it’s clear that they both love each other, and their communication problems are rooted in not being able to fully express the grief they have over the death of Claire. And if there’s a happy ending to this story, it might not be the perfect fantasy, but it’s a lot closer to real life than most other movies with the word “Christmas” in the title.

Gravitas Ventures released “My Dad’s Christmas Date” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on November 6, 2020.

Review: ‘The Turning’ (2020), starring Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince and Joely Richardson

January 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mackenzie Davis and Brooklynn Prince in “The Turning” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)

“The Turning” (2020)

Directed by Floria Sigismondi

Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional Maine suburb, the predominantly white cast of characters represent people from the middle and upper classes.

Culture Clash: A supernatural ghost story, the main plot centers around a young live-in nanny who is being terrorized in a haunted house, and the two spoiled children under her care might or might not have something to do with it.

Culture Audience: “The Turning” will appeal primarily to horror fans who want a movie that doesn’t get too graphic in its violence, but the story leaves a lot to be desired in pacing and structure.

Finn Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince in “The Turning” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures)

Some people might say that we’re living in a golden age of horror films, because of the horror genre’s resurgence in popularity. But long after movie studios keep churning out more predictable horror flicks, “The Turning” will be a forgotten mishap not even worthy of a footnote in movies about menacing ghosts and haunted houses.

“The Turning” (directed by Floria Sigismondi and written by identical twins Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes) takes place in 1994, so smartphones and the Internet aren’t going to be used as resources to get the characters out of danger. “The Turning” is based on the Henry James novella “The Turn of the Screw,” which is a classic work of art that “The Turning” never will be. There is no mysterious uncle in the movie, as there is in the novella, and the movie takes place in Maine (instead of England), but the basic plot remains the same.

Viewers know that “The Turning” takes place in 1994, because in one of the first scenes, there’s a newscast on TV about the upcoming memorial for Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana lead singer who died a few days earlier, according to the newscast. The TV is in the apartment home of 20-something Kate Mandell (played by Mackenzie Davis), who’s moving out because she’s quit her job as a schoolteacher to take a job as a live-in nanny to an elementary-school-aged girl named Flora Fairchild (played by the precocious Brooklynn Prince), who’s a rich orphan living in a remote mansion called the Bly estate. Kate’s roommate Rose (played by Kim Adis) doesn’t want her to go, but Kate has made up her mind, because as she says to Rose, she’d rather be responsible for one possibly unruly kid instead of classroom full of them.

The opening scene of “The Turning” shows a terrified blonde trying to escape from the mansion by car. We find out later who that woman was, but for the time being, Kate is blissfully unaware of the terror waiting for her. As Kate drives to the foreboding mansion for her first day on the job, the first plot hole appears, because based on her awestruck reactions, it’s the first time she’s ever been to the mansion. Even if Kate was hired through an agency, it’s still makes Kate look less-than-smart to not see for herself where she’d be living and working before she took the job. Now that it’s been established that Kate isn’t the brightest bulb in the drawer, since she’s taken a live-in job without ever visiting the place beforehand, the story moves on to her making even more illogical decisions.

When she arrives at the mansion, she’s greeted by the grim and uptight house manager Mrs. Grose (played by Barbara Marten), who tells Kate something that would give pause to any person with common sense: Flora must never leave the family property. Kate is presumably supposed to be Flora’s home-school tutor, but the movie never shows Kate doing any teaching or even asking about Flora’s curriculum.

And then Kate gets a surprise when she finds out that she has to take care of not only Flora but also her troubled 15-year-old bother Miles (played by Finn Wolfhard, who’s best known for his roles on Netflix’s “Stranger Things” series and Warner Bros. Pictures’ “It” movies). Kate unexpectedly meets Miles when he startles her during his visit home from boarding school. Miles is every bit of the rude, insolent creep that he appears to be. He likes to play mean-spirited pranks on Kate and sneak up on her while she’s sleeping. It isn’t long before Miles comes home to stay permanently, because he’s been expelled from school for viciously assaulting a fellow student, by choking the boy and bashing his head into the ground. The kid’s parents have declined to press charges, which is why Miles hasn’t been arrested.

Even after Kate gets this information, she still stays. Mrs. Grose, the ultimate toxic enabler, makes excuses for Miles, and constantly reminds Kate that Miles and Flora are “thoroughbreds” and “privileged” and deserve to catered to by “the help.” She scolds Kate when Kate tries to discipline the kids in a reasonable way. It’s also obvious that Mrs. Grose knows a lot of the estate’s dirty secrets.

Throughout the course of the movie, Kate learns that several other nannies have quit and that three people have died on the property in the past few years: Miles and Flora’s parents (who died in a car accident) and Peter Quint, the horse-riding instructor, who died under mysterious circumstances. (Quint, who is seen in flashbacks and in photos, is played by Niall Greig Fulton.)

Mrs. Grose tells Kate that Quint was a bad influence on Miles (they would disappear together for hours), and Quint had some kind of sexual relationship with Miss Jessell (played by Denna Thomsen), the nanny who had the job before Kate did. The relationship ended badly, and Miss Jessell abruptly disappeared. Quint died shortly after the disappearance. Kate discovers Miss Jessel’s journal that reveals Quint had an unhealthy obsession with Miss Jessel and she was terrified of him. Even after getting all of these warning signs, Kate still stays. And she finds out the hard way what a mistake that is.

“The Turning” is director Sigsmondi’s return to helming feature films after a 10-year absence. (Her previous feature was the little-seen and underrated rock music biopic “The Runaways,” which was such a flop when it was released in March 2010, it was one of the reasons why its independent distributor Apparition went out of business a month after the movie’s release.) Sigismondi, who started her directing career with music videos and has been working mainly in television for the past several years, gets all the visual elements of “The Turning” right, for what could have been an intriguing ghost story. Kudos should also be given to the movie’s cinematography (by David Ungaro), the production design (by Paki Smith) and art direction (by Nigel Pollock), for creating a convincing atmosphere of horror and doom.

But it’s all wasted on a subpar screenplay that ruins the movie. The movie’s pacing also does little to build suspense. Kate has frightening encounters with the ghosts fairly early on in the story, but every time it happens, she has the same reactions: She screams, she blames the kids, and she decides to stay. It becomes too repetitive and ultimately annoying. There are also aspects of the story that could have been interesting but are instead dangled in front of the audience and never fully explained. For example, viewers will get no clear answers for why Flora isn’t supposed to leave the property and why she has a panic attack if she thinks she’s going to be forced to leave.

The actors do a very competent job with the problematic script that they’ve been given. Davis doesn’t have much to work with in portraying Kate’s personality or intelligence, because Kate is a very underdeveloped character who keeps making bad decisions. As Flora Fairchild, talented actress Prince, who had a breakout film debut as a foul-mouthed brat in 2017’s “The Florida Project,” is playing another girl who’s wise beyond her years while still maintaining child-like innocence in some ways. Wolfhard’s Miles Fairchild is obviously the more sinister sibling, and his sociopathic creepiness is actually more disturbing than some of the predictable scares that the ghosts inflict on Kate.

On a side note, it’s always kind of amusing to see these haunted houses suddenly have lights that don’t work, because the protagonists inevitably end up in dark rooms where they don’t/can’t/won’t turn on the lights. And if they’re using a flashlight or a candle to see, the flashlight or candle usually gets dropped when the inevitable ghost scare happens.

The Hayes brothers’ screenplay for “The Turning” really is the movie’s weakest link, which is such a letdown, since they’re capable of writing much better ghost-story horror movies. (Their screenwriting credits include “The Conjuring,” “The Conjuring 2” and “Annabelle.”) Most horror movies about haunted houses have to explain why the people in those houses don’t just move out after it becomes unsafe to live there. The reason is usually because they’ve bought the house and they recently moved into the house, so they’re already invested in staying. Moving out abruptly without another place to live could be an expensive mistake for them.

Back when the “The Turn of the Screw” was published in 1898, women didn’t have very many options on what they could do with their lives and where they could live. But it’s 1994 in “The Turning,” and Kate certainly has plenty of options that she foolishly doesn’t take. (Such as: Leave and get another job.) Another option, which most people in haunted houses do in horror movies, is to go to the authorities or consult with a spiritual expert to get rid of the ghosts. Kate does none of that, and as things get more dangerous for her, she still stays.

However, since Kate doesn’t own the mansion, and they’re clearly not paying her enough for her to justify staying, it doesn’t make sense that Kate stays as long as she does when she starts seeing ghosts, she gets locked into rooms, and she’s assaulted by mysterious forces. The movie gives a weak explanation for Kate staying: In a phone conversation, she tells her former roommate Rose (who practically begs Kate to quit the job and move back in with her) that she doesn’t want to leave because she made a promise to Flora to never abandon her, and Kate doesn’t want to emotionally damage the child. (It doesn’t cross Kate’s mind that the kid could afford to get a good therapist.)

You see, Kate has her own abandonment issues, because her father left Kate and her mother Darla (played by Joely Richardson) when Kate was a child. Darla has been in a psychiatric institution for several years (there’s a scene where Kate visits her there but Kate doesn’t stay long), and Darla might or might not have psychic powers that most people think are delusions. Kate has some hangups about possibly inheriting Darla’s mental illness and being perceived as crazy, which is the movie’s way of explaining why Kate doesn’t get help or report all the bizarre and dangerous things that keep happening to her on the Bly estate.

Darla likes to draw her visions, and she shows her artwork to Kate. The artwork is explained toward the end of the movie, which concludes in such a disappointing way, that it’s bound to confuse and frustrate viewers. (At the screening I attended, a lot of people gasped in disgust at the ridiculous ending.) “The Turning” is one of those movies that has a misleading trailer that makes the film look a lot better than it actually is. Just like a dimwitted person who knowingly stays in a haunted house after being attacked by ghosts, viewers should know what they’re getting into with “The Turning” and experience it at their own risk.

Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures released “The Turning” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020.

Review: ‘Color Out of Space,’ starring Nicolas Cage

January 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nicolas Cage in “Color Out of Space” (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films)

“Color Out of Space”

Directed by Richard Stanley

Culture Representation: The movie’s characters are predominately white (with one African American, one Chinese Canadian and one Native American) who live in the fictional rural town of Arkham, Massachusetts. 

Culture Clash: After a meteorite crashes on a family farm and strange things start to happen, the movie’s characters have conflicting degrees of skepticism and beliefs over what is logical science and what is the unexplainable supernatural. 

Culture Audience: “Color Out of Space” will appeal the most to fans of campy B-movies in the sci-fi and horror genres.

“Color Out of Space” (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films)

Sometime in the 2010s, Oscar winner Nicolas Cage stopped being an A-list actor and started doing a steady stream of low-budget films (many of them released direct-to-video), where he usually plays a character who’s somewhere on the crazy spectrum. Cage has been very open in media interviews that his financial problems (wild spending, lawsuits over non-payment and IRS liens) have forced him to sell off many of his prized possessions. Apparently, this downsizing also extends to the budget and quality of movie jobs he’s been taking.

But somewhere along the way, Cage decided to have fun with these C-list movies by going into high-gear campiness in these roles. (His 2018 revenge flick “Mandy” already has a cult following.) Even though Cage tends to make films in the genres of action, drama and horror, make no mistake: His gleefully unhinged performances are now bringing a lot of comedy to his films.

In “Color Out of Space” (which is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Colour Out of Space), Cage plays Nathan Gardner, the patriarch of a five-person clan living on a farm in the fictional rural town of Arkham, Massachusetts. The family, who used to live in a big city, includes Nathan’s wife Theresa (played by Joely Richardson), a recent survivor of breast cancer; teenage daughter Liviana (played by Madeleine Arthur), who fancies herself to be a Wiccan-inspired witch; teenage son Benny (played by Brendan Meyer), a rebellious stoner; and pre-teen son Jack (played by Julian Hillard), a near-perfect child who gets along with everyone.

In the film’s opening scene in a secluded wooden area, Liviana is wearing an outfit that looks like she’s on the way to a Renaissance Faire (cape and all), as she calls out to the spirits of earth, air, water, fire and ether to help heal her mother from cancer. She’s even got a white horse, which might be part of her attempt to look like some kind of fairy mystical princess. This is director Richard Stanley’s not-so-subtle way of telling the audience that Liviana represents someone who believes in the supernatural.

While she’s in this secluded spot, in walks Ward Phillips (played by Elliot Knight), who introduces himself as a hydrologist who’s surveying the water in the area. Ward seems to be kind of amused by Liviana’s outfit and her spiritual ritual, and he makes it clear that he’s a scientist who doesn’t believe in any of that witchy mumbo jumbo. Okay, we get it. Ward and Liviana are opposites.

Back at the farm, Liviana and Benny engage in some verbal sparring and name-calling (something they do several times in the movie) before the family settles in for the night. Their night is massively interrupted when a magenta glow takes over the atmosphere, and there’s a loud boom that feels like an explosion. Running outside, the family sees that a magenta meteorite surrounded by smoke has crashed into the front yard.

Ward and local law enforcement Sheriff Pierce (played by Josh C. Waller), who’s apparently the only cop on duty in this remote area, investigate the meteorite and don’t know what to make of it. Ward, who touches the meteor with his bare hands (not a very safe or scientific thing to do), advises the Gardners not to drink the water from their well until they can figure out what’s going on. Near the meteorite, there’s also a horrible odor that Nathan describes as smelling like a dog has been lit on fire.

Speaking of animals, Nathan is very proud to own several alpacas on the farm. He mentions the alpacas so much in the movie that it’s almost as if the screenwriters (director Stanley and Scarlett Amaris) deliberately made all these references to alpacas so people could make a drinking game out of it. It isn’t long before everyone on the farm (yes, including the alpacas) start to act strangely.

When the meteor first hit, Jack was temporarily in a catatonic state, but then he snapped out of it. Theresa also has a trance-like blackout while she’s cutting carrots in the kitchen. And let’s just say that the carrots aren’t the only things that get sliced. Then just as suddenly as the meteorite appeared, it disappeared from the yard. But the strange occurrences continue, such as weird voices amid static on the phone. And then Jack suddenly acts like he can hear voices that no one else can hear.

And what is famous stoner comedian Tommy Chong doing in this movie? Playing a hippie stoner named Ezra, a recluse who claims that he can find out what’s going on with all of these unexplained and frightening incidents. Ward spends some time at Ezra’s place to hear out his wild theories, but the mystery continues.

There are some glaring plot holes in this movie that are bigger than the crater left by the meteorite. Ward doesn’t do what a real scientist would docontact his scientist colleagues to get their opinions. He’s the only science-based investigator in the entire movie. And even though the strange sightings make the local TV news (where a reporter openly mocks Nathan in an interview and makes Nathan look like a UFO-sighting nutjob), the publicity doesn’t bring out any curiosity seekers (including scientists) to the farm to take a look for themselves. But hey, this is a low-budget movie with a small cast. Don’t judge too harshly, because this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously.

It becomes apparent that the meteorite brought some non-human, unexpected and unwanted visitors to the area. And things get worse, as some members of the Gardner family develop a gruesome skin condition that leaves them writhing in pain. And one member of the family might or might not descend into madness. (Take a wild guess who it is. )

All of the actors in the film except for Cage are playing it straight in this deliberately bizarre horror flick. Cage’s wild, over-the-top mannerisms invite people to laugh along at the silliness of it all. (There were plenty of laughs at the screening that I attended, and they were all because of how Cage was acting on screen.) The visual effects are standard for this type of low-budget film, except for the last 15 minutes when there is some truly stunning imagery that’s more than a nod to psychedelia.

Crazy Cage, Crazy Chong and crazy, bloody chaos. What more could you want in a horror film? Oh, that’s right. Don’t forget the alpacas.

RLJE Films will release “Color Out of Space” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on January 24, 2020.

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