Reel Life mini-review: "Stoker"
The slightly perverse domestic psychological thriller "Stoker" comes from South Korean director Chan-wook Park, someone who possesses no interest in creating popular movies for the American mass market. His niche is intensely violent, visually provocative and highly disturbing tales of desperation and revenge.
If you've seen "Oldboy" (his most popular to date) or "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," you know that his first American movie "Stoker" is probably not a good first date bet.
And the title has nothing to do with the author of "Dracula."
The moment we see Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), "Stoker" telegraphs that he's unstable trouble. His wide eyes spin like roulette wheels in their sockets and his face glows with an unearthly incandescence that screams I am a weirdo!
He shows up at the funeral of his brother Richard (Dermot Mulroney). His sad daughter India Stoker (an appropriately moody and reserved Mia Wasikowska) is surprised, having never heard about Uncle Charlie from her mourning mom Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).
To compare "Stoker" to Hitchcock's classic "Shadow of a Doubt" is certainly valid (both feature mysterious and lethal Uncle Charlies), but Park's creepy tale is far more unhinged and blunt about suppressed sexual feelings -- some not-so-suppressed following a violent act we get two versions of.
"Stoker" deliberately makes us feel uncomfortable with its nonconformist edge and wacky symbolism. (Watch for that spider crawling up inside India's dress!)
Wentworth Miller's first feature screenplay also conspires to subvert our expectations by foreshadowing red herrings. (India finds her dad's automatic pistol that we assume will come into play later, but then it never does.)
Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver pops in for a virtual cameo as Aunt Gwen who unceremoniously disappears from the film to join a nosy housekeeper and a would-be rapist all out fertilizing some rock gardens.
Frequent Park collaborator Chung-Hoon Chung's off-kilter camera work adds a distinctly unsettling element to "Stoker," complemented by Clint Mansell's surprisingly lush score that includes Philip Glass' intense piano duet played with surging sexual energy by India and Uncle Charlie at the keys.
"Stoker" won't be a movie for all or even most viewers used to cookie-cutter plots and easy-to-grasp characters. Park's vision puts Hitchcock squarely in horror territory where the villains can be victims and the heroes can be villains. In Monty Python lingo, this is something completely different.
"Stoker" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. Rated R for sexual situations and violence. 100 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½
Reel Life film notes:
• Join me and film historian Raymond Benson as Dann & Raymond's Movie Club presents: "Hollywood's Chameleon: The Films of Meryl Streep," 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at the Schaumburg Township District Library, 130 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg. Clips from her Oscar-nominated films "Sophie's Choice," "Silkwood," "The Deer Hunter," "Kramer vs. Kramer" and many more. Free admission! Go to stdl.info or call (847) 985-4000.
• The Chicago Film Critics Association will present Paul Schrader's 1978 directorial debut "Blue Collar" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Studio Movie Grill, 301 Rice Lake Square, Wheaton. Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto play three plant workers who rob their union office for funds. CFCA member Sergio Mims will host a post-screening discussion. Admission $1. Go to bit.ly/13knweD.
• The film short "Recalculating" was shot in Elgin last May, using local landmarks and talent to tell the story of a how a GPS device helps a father (Chicago character actor Ron Dean) reconnect with his estranged daughter (actress/Paralympian Katy Sullivan) after she loses her legs in an auto accident.
The film also features Elgin actor Peter Garlock, who works for the Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. (He has also hosted the annual Elgin Short Film Festival.)
"Recalculating" will launch its premiere at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Elgin Marcus Cinema, 111 S. Randall Road, Elgin. Sullivan and the other filmmakers will conduct a post-show Q-and-A. Tickets cost $5 at the box office with a post-show party at the Tilted Kilt, 2300 Bushwood Drive, Elgin. bit.ly/ZB3pE4.
• You might remember a guy named Nat Dykeman when he founded the Lake County Film Festival that ran programs at the College of Lake County. He's back with his directorial debut "QWERTY," a romance about love and Scrabble.
He made the movie a couple of years ago with local talent. Now it will be showcased at the Midwest Independent Film Festival's First Tuesday program, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., Chicago. A Producer's Panel is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. after a 6 p.m. reception. Go to bit.ly/15iWti6 for tickets.
CGI: the end of actors?
Dann: Hollywood is laying the groundwork for its own demise. And by Hollywood, I'm referring to "live" actors. An overrated Ang Lee nabs the (director's) Oscar by getting (Suraj Sharma) to chat with a CGI tiger? But Oscar-winning live actor Tom Hanks is ignored for emoting with a volleyball while stranded on a deserted island (in "Cast Away")?
No, this is just the next step in elevating and legitimizing CGI and motion/performance-capture technology as the next-generation of Hollywood production. The Academy and the Screen Actors Guild support this at their own peril.
Look at the progression: "The Polar Express," "The Lord of the Rings," "Avatar," and the "Tron" sequel, now this. How soon before the James Cameron School replaces the Lee Strasberg School redefining "method acting?"
The time's a-coming when studios will be more willing to pay actors or estates for their image-as-intellectual property instead of paying a demanding living diva, as well as the requisite insurance/liability coverage. -- Rick Barlow
Dear Rick: You might be right. Already I can't tell the difference between a computer-animated character and a Jim Carrey performance. -- Dann
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!