Film

Cinemadope: Serve Cold

Revenge on screen

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Revenge and retribution seem to be on people’s minds these days. Turn on the television most nights, and you’ll find levels of back-stabbing and double-crossing not seen in prime time since people were wondering who shot JR. (It’s a reference, young people, look it up.) It’s gotten so bad that a few programs have given up on pretending to be about anything else, and are simply titled Revenge, or Scandal, or Betrayal. It’s enough to make one miss the nuanced delivery of an afternoon soap opera.

Over the next few days, a couple of special screenings hit area screens, with each film bringing a bit of onscreen violence and revenge—each with its own approach, but both with something richer than a lot of our current fare.

First up is Ms. 45, director Abel Ferrara’s (King of New York) 1981 low-budget exploitation thriller about a woman who turns murderous after a series of brutal assaults. The late model/actress/screenwriter Zoë Tamerlis Lund—she would later pen Ferrara’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant—stars as Thana, a mute seamstress working in New York’s garment district. After being sexually assaulted twice in a day, she suffers a mental break—having turned the tables on her second attacker, she picks up his weapon (the .45 of the title) and begins to systematically target the male population at large.

As with almost all Ferrara’s films, Ms. 45 is divisive. There are many who hail it as a classic that reversed the power dynamic of exploitation movies by putting a woman behind the trigger. But there are just as many who would say the opposite: that it does little more than trade one kind of fantasy for another. They may have a point: the film’s two most iconic images are its gun-and-garter-belt poster—we are peering through Thana’s exposed thighs at a thug she’s presumably about to mow down—and a shot of Thana at a Halloween party near the end of the film, where she is dressed in a nun’s habit and bright red lipstick. As extremes go, those two images pretty much cover the spectrum. There’s only one way to find out if it’s for you: it shows Friday, Jan. 10 at 10 p.m.

If you like your revenge a bit more genteel, you’ll want to head out to Cinemark (or sister theater Rave in West Springfield) for a Sunday afternoon screening of The Princess Bride, in which most everyone is out to get payback for something. One of the all-time classics, Rob Reiner’s 1987 fairy tale has a bit of everything: swordplay, a giant, and pirates and princesses all come together for a medieval romp that is both sweet and thrilling, and a throwback to an earlier kind of storytelling. Indeed, the main conceit of the film is that The Princess Bride is actually a book being read to a sick boy (Fred Savage of The Wonder Years) by his kindly grandfather (a perfectly cast Peter Falk). The ensemble works together seamlessly to create a timeless tale that is an increasingly rare thing in movies today: something the whole family can enjoy.

 

Also this week: In a director’s statement that accompanies the release of his new film A Touch of Sin, filmmaker Jia Zhangke (The World, Still Life) states that he thinks of his new work “as a wuxia pian (martial arts film) about contemporary China.” Western audiences heading out to the theaters might find that a bit of a surprise. A Touch of Sin is no period piece, but a wholly modern work that takes a core subject of those traditional stories—an individual struggling against oppression in an unjust world—and adjusts it for our lives today.

To tell his story, Jia borrowed from four stories that have rocked modern China in recent years: three murders and a suicide that laid bare an undercurrent of corruption and violence in the country, and forced a nation to stop and consider its own direction during a period of record growth. Well-known inside China (if less so to outside audiences), the deaths spanned the nation both geographically and socially—his film features a miner fighting corruption in his village as well as a worker in a luxury brothel—and Jia makes it clear that the problem is something nobody can afford to ignore.•

 

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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