Terrence Howard On His Future As An Actor and ‘Dead Man Down’

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WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place in 2013.

It was so infinitely cool to hang out with actor Terrence Howard during the Los Angeles press day for “Dead Man Down.” Hearing him speak was endlessly fascinating because, on top of being an actor, he is also very knowledgeable on the subjects of science and the Bible, and his intelligence has led him to make a number of interesting choices in the roles he has played. Throughout the interview, he talked about how he chose to portray crime lord Alphonse Hoyt and what the future holds for him as an actor.

Now when you hear about crime lords in movies, you usually expect actors to give scenery-chewing performances which are way over the top. But at the same time, many actors fall into the trap of making these characters seem like comic book characters as opposed to fully developed human beings. The beauty of Howard’s performance in “Dead Man Down” was that it was never over the top, and he allowed himself to portray Alphonse in a way you wouldn’t necessarily expect. In his conversations with the film’s director Niels Arden Oplev (who made the original version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“), Howard came to realize he wouldn’t be playing the same old crime lord we have become all too familiar with.

Terrence Howard: That man (Oplev) told me, “I’m going to change your life. I’m going to make you a bad guy that nobody has ever seen before,” and he gave me all the tools necessary to accomplish it. I think he’s a genius for that. What he did in creating these characters where all of them were compromised from the start was a beautiful, beautiful thing. There’s no good guy, there’s no bad guy in the movie. Everyone makes a crucial mistake in trying to make you pay for what you did yesterday with the resources of today.

Having seen “Dead Man Down,” I couldn’t agree with him more. Alphonse Hoyt is a bad guy, but he is also a very complex character who cannot be dismissed as a one-dimensional villain. Even the characters played by Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace are in a morally gray area as they have suffered tragedies in their own lives and are out to get revenge in the worst way possible. Howard compared the characters to another movie he co-starred in.

TH: It’s like “Crash;” everyone was a bad guy somewhere along the way. Even Ryan Phillippe’s character, who was the good guy, ends up doing something terrible at the end of it. I think that’s what cinema’s about. it’s supposed to teach you about humanity and the choices that we’re making whether it’s good or bad, and the audience can watch and hopefully gain some type of understanding of how to place the stumbling blocks of yesterday in a way on the path that they become stepping stones for those that will follow us. We are all still one person even though we see each other as separate individuals.

During the interview, Howard made it very clear to us that Alphonse was not born a bad guy. While his character leads a life of crime, we come to understand he never meant to go down the dark path that he did. This may not make any of his deeds in “Dead Man Down” forgivable, but it helps us to understand where he came from. Howard talked about how he saw the character at length and how his own personal experiences came to inform his performance.

TH: He (Alphonse) wanted to fit into society. Now mind you, he was part of a disenfranchised social group as a young black man, and in being a light-skinned black man growing up in the 70’s, black people didn’t appreciate him and didn’t like him and white people didn’t like him. When I was a kid, I was called a no nation motherfucker because I couldn’t hang out with black people and I couldn’t hang out with white people, so I had to find some type of foundation within my own family group. When I went down to Brazil, I found my family because everybody looks like me there. My character just wants to be accepted; he wants to be respected. He’s like Michael Corleone who said, “I tell you within five years we are going to be complete and above board. Just give us those five years and all of the businesses are going to be respectable.” That’s what he’s hoping, but Michael Corleone was never able to achieve that because you cannot gain peace by creating problems for someone else.

It’s natural I suppose to assume Howard based his character on another crime lord or that he did research on kingpins from history, but he actually found inspirations from other surprising sources. Among them were a story by writer Khalil Gibran and the story of King Saul and of how he had been anointed to become the King of Israel but was later denied this honor.

TH: When King Saul thought too much of himself and began to break God’s laws, King Saul had the kingdom ripped away from him. Now instead of accepting that and repenting, he fought against the anointed of Jehovah in fighting David, and therefore he had this evil spirit that was always following him, and he knew that he was going to fall and lose his place. That’s a hard place to exist in. But then Khalil Gibran told this story about the criminal, and in the story of the criminal was a young man strong of body and nature who had gone and knocked on the doors to go to work, but people told him ‘well you need education’ and they closed the doors. So, he went to the schools and they said well, you need money, and therefore he went out to beg and they said you’re a strong man, you’re lazy. So, he ended up on the top of a mountain and he looks down and is angry in his heart, and at that moment a lightning bolt strikes a tree and this club falls on him. He’s angry at God and he raises a club and says, “I asked and it was not given. Now I shall take with the strength of my arm,” and he then descended into that city and became the most notorious criminal of all time. Then two years later, a new Amir took over the city and made him the chief of his army and they dominated and desolated that city, and Khalil Gibran made a beautiful commentary that “of good men do we turn criminals out of our inhumanity towards each other. So, it was a combination of those things and a little bit of King Ahab because he refused to take direction from Jehovah also. There’s a lot of people that made Alphonse.

There are rumors Howard is thinking about retiring from acting, and this is a surprise because he still looks like he has many great performances left to give. He did not say he was going to retire, but I quickly came to respect his reasons for why he is considering it. Howard did not set out to be an actor for fame, wealth and glory, but instead to better himself as a person.

TH: I had a conversation with Sidney Poitier where I asked him, are you gonna do another movie? And he said, “No I don’t want to do an impersonation of myself anymore.” I may have 10 years left in my life and I don’t want to waste it doing something I’ve done before. If I can’t learn from a character, if I’m just going in and taking from a bag of tricks and choices, I don’t want to do it. It’s pointless for me because I have to grow as a human being and I don’t want the safe road. If I wanted the safe road I would’ve stayed working as a chemical engineer for New York when I graduated college. If I wanted the safe road I would’ve stayed in Cleveland, Ohio and been a contractor. I think I have greater things that I can contribute to the world of education and science than just as an actor. Now acting pays a lot, but I feel like I’m walking on water for tips as an actor because I know how to do it. I want to achieve my purpose as a human being and the reason I was put on this planet, so I will follow the course. As a sperm, if I knew which way to go and knew how to do it, I wouldn’t have gotten there because I would’ve been bored with it. But because I didn’t know where I had to go and I had to trust my instincts, I beat a half billion of my own brothers and sisters and hijacked my mother’s body and Terrence Howard has come to be. I like following the river as it flows.

Well, here’s hoping Terrence Howard doesn’t retire from acting for a very long time. While there is no doubt as to how smart a human being he is and of how much he can give in other areas of life, he continues to give one great performance after another. Howard also infuses each role he takes on with a strong intelligence, and it was endlessly fascinating to hear him talk about the things he knows as well as his role in “Dead Man Down.”

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‘I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu’ Gets Grindhouse Poster and Trailer

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While I have already made clear my thoughts about the long-awaited sequel “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu,” there are still some things about it I cannot help but admire. There are the performances of Jamie Bernadette and Maria Olsen, and now we have a new poster and trailer done in the style of a grindhouse film. Grindhouse, aside from being the title of an awesome cinematic experience directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, is a term for a theater in America which screens exploitation films. These films were known for containing a lot of sex, violence, blood, gore and different bizarre elements you would never see in the average Disney movie. They were also afflicted with low production values and poor print quality, but these of course became qualities fans of the genre loved to no end.

These grindhouse qualities are more than evident in the newly released poster and trailer for “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu,” and I got a huge kick out of both as a result. The poster features Bernadette quite prominently, but it also includes the many characters who inhabit this sequel as well as some of its most unforgettable images. The color scheme is perfect as it makes the poster appropriately grungy, just like a grindhouse film should be.

As for the trailer, it features footage from “I Spit on Your Grave” and makes it look as though the film is about to break (like I said, poor print quality). When it gets to “Déjà vu,” the footage is cleaned up but now dominated by a hard rock score and a narrator who sounds like he is reveling in this sequel’s down and dirty qualities. Watching this makes me want to view this sequel again, and that’s even though it is highly unlikely my opinion of it will change.

In addition to it now being available on DVD and Blu-ray. “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” is also available to watch on VOD.

Also, please feel free to check out the Q&A from “Deja vu’s” premiere screening in Beverly Hills, California down below.

‘I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu’- Is it More Tolerable Than What Came Before?

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As much as I abhor “I Spit on Your Grave,” its power to shock and deeply unnerve its captive audience is something I have to admire even if I do so begrudgingly. The 1978 cult classic is like a scab which I cannot help but pick at even when I know doing so is harmful and pointless. Meir Zarchi’s controversial revenge flick was such a poorly made motion picture, and yet it maintains a raw power which would later inspire a remake and two sequels. Heck, there is even a documentary called “Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave” which was made by Meir’s son, Terry Zarchi, and I may have to watch just out of sheer curiosity.

Now it’s 40 years later, and Meir Zarchi has given us a direct sequel to the original called “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu.” Upon hearing Zarchi was going to make a follow up, I couldn’t help but be incredibly intrigued. It’s been a long time coming for this sequel as it was finished in 2015 but is only now seeing a release, albeit one which is seeing it go straight to DVD and Blu-ray. Has Zarchi improved as a filmmaker? Will it be more disturbing and violent than what came before? Could “I Spit on Your Grave: The Next Generation” be a more appropriate title?

Well, I got to check the sequel out the other week at its Beverly Hills premiere where the cast and crew were in attendance along with fans who seemed more excited for this than they are for “Avengers: Endgame.” Since this screening, I have tried to sort out my thoughts about it and will continue to do so in this review. What I can tell you is this; “Déjà vu” is infinitely better than its predecessor, features some really strong performances, and it shocks in a way which feels nowhere as exploitive as what came before. At the same time, it is widely uneven, has some actors redefining the term “scenery chewing,” and it has a running time of almost two and a half hours. Plus, as it goes on, it quickly becomes clear why it was given the subtitle of “Déjà vu.”

The movie opens with us learning Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) was found not guilty of killing the four men who brutally raped her, and she has since published a memoir of her ordeal appropriately titled “I Spit on Their Graves.” She meets up with her beautiful daughter, Christy Hills (Jamie Bernadette), for lunch, and we se she is a successful model who has made quite the career for herself. Both women are at a crossroads in their lives as they discuss what else they can do now they have found amazing success despite a troubled past, and the road ahead offers no easy answers.

As Jennifer and Christy leave the restaurant, they are accosted by Kevin (Jonathan Peacy) and Scotty (Jeremy Ferdman) who are eager to get Jennifer’s autograph. The fact the two men drive up to her in a white van with the words “Enola Gay” painted on the side is not a good sign as this was the name given to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber which dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan back in World War II. Before they know it, the two women are abducted and driven far away from the eyes of the world where they meet Becky (Maria Olsen), the wife of Johnny (Eron Tabor) whom Jennifer castrated in the bathtub and left bleeding to death. Suffice to say, Becky is brimming with rage and furious at Jennifer for depriving her of a “church-going” husband and their two kids of a father, and she is intent on taking Jennifer back to the place where it all began so she can give her a “preview to hell.” In the process, Christy is forced to fend for herself after she is separated from Jennifer, and as she attempts to rescue her mother from a horrible fate, she comes to discover more about herself than she ever could have expected.

“I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” is a much more professionally made movie than its god-awful predecessor, and Zarchi is blessed with an excellent cinematographer in Pedja Radenkovic who gives him a number of beautifully framed shots amid the bloody carnage we know will be unleashed in front of our eyes. He also provokes our views on religion and revenge among other things as Becky has convinced herself as well as Kevin and Scotty how her acts are justified by the word of God and the Holy Bible, and she sees Jennifer as nothing more than a vixen who used her sexual powers to lure Johnny and the other men to their ever so painful deaths. It’s both fascinating and frightening to see how people use religion to justify acts which Jesus would not condone in the slightest, and this makes this sequel feel surprisingly, and painfully, timely.

The first performance worth singling out here is Jamie Bernadette’s as she is a commanding presence throughout and manages to say so much while saying nothing at all. Just watch her stare down one of her assailants as she rocks back and forth in a chair. Not once does Bernadette have to tell us that Christy will have her revenge in a most brutal way as her eyes make this clear from the get go. Even when “Déjà vu” takes us through moments which defy all believability, this actress makes you believe certain things could be possible even when logic tells us they are not.

Then there is Maria Olsen who makes Becky into one of the most unforgettable characters I have seen in a horror film in quite some time. Even when she looks to head into, as Kevin Smith and Ralph Garmin would call it, “exquisite acting” territory, Olsen gives a fully committed performance as someone whose heart and soul yearns for nothing more than vengeance, and I can’t help but see her in some respects as a female Khan Noonien Singh. As she prays at the grave of her dead husband, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, and even the snot hanging from her nose can’t possibly upstage her.

Okay, now let’s talk about what doesn’t work about this sequel. Yes, Zarchi has definitely improved as a filmmaker, but he needs a better editor as this movie has no reason to run over two hours long. Scenes drag on for much longer than they have any right to. Moreover, why does Becky want revenge after 40 years? I know the American legal system moves very slowly, but this slowly?

While the screenplay fearlessly provokes our thoughts and beliefs on religion and justice, it doesn’t provide much in the way of answers. Is Zarchi trying to strive for some particular meaning here? If so, what exactly is he getting at? And as we arrive at the movie’s climax, certain characters end up doing a 180 turn on us to where I came out of it questioning the logic of everything which came before. Why, why, why?

And as “Déjà vu” goes on, we come to see it is replaying the same exact story of the 1978 original as Christy is forced to endure the same fate as her mother though in a way slightly less disturbing. Didn’t any of the characters around her learn anything from what happened before, or are they far too dumb to realize the consequences of their actions? The bible does say “an eye for an eye,” but the meaning of this phrase proves to be quite infinite.

As for the other performances, they come to redefine scenery chewing. Jonathan Peacy in particular is all over the place in his portrayal of Kevin to where I wondered why Zarchi never bothered to rein him in. The actor is like a dog who gets all too excited to where he cannot stop jumping all over strangers. Regardless of how the dog’s owner tells them to get down, sit or shake hands, this dog cannot and will not contain their energy. I have to admire the energy Peacy brought to his role, but perhaps a little less caffeine behind the scenes would have done him some good.

And there is Camille Keaton who returns as Jennifer Hills. Her appearance here threatens to be nothing more than a cameo, and this for me was the most disappointing thing about this sequel. At the “Déjà vu” premiere, Keaton said she had wanted Zarchi to make a sequel to “I Spit on Your Grave” for years, and yet she only gets so much to do here. Considering how Jaimee Lee Curtis got to resurrect Laurie Strode for one of the best “Halloween” movies ever and turned her iconic character into a bad ass survivalist, I was hoping the same would happen with Jennifer Hills. In the end, this proves not to be the case.

There is a rape here, but only one thank goodness. Now that last sentence may sound strange, but considering the half hour of brutal abuse Jennifer Hills endured in the 1978 movie, this was a relief as Zarchi is far more focused on the revenge of the female this time around. There is also a castration scene you can see coming from a mile away, and it is as painful as the one we witnessed decades before. And yes, there is another mentally challenged who gets murdered even after he spares another human from certain death. Seeing him get killed off was especially frustrating as the character, Herman (Jim Tavare), proved to be more of a morally balanced individual than anyone else here, and yet he still gets it right in the back.

At some point, I may be able to view “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” as a guilty pleasure. For what it’s worth, it is a vast improvement over its notorious predecessor and a little easier to sit through even as Zarchi fearlessly and shamelessly gets under our skin. It also ends on an interesting note as one character chooses to avert a course of action we expect them to take, and we wonder if history will repeat itself again as two people who are alluded to show up unexpectedly. Still, after a time it devolves into the same old story, and many of us will be left wondering if it was one which needed to be revisited at all.

Perhaps Zarchi can make another sequel with the subtitle “Vuja De.” You remember what George Carlin said about this, right?

“Do you ever get that strange feeling of vuja de? Not deja vu, vuja de. It’s the distinct sense that somehow, something that just happened has never happened before. Nothing seems familiar. And then suddenly the feeling is gone. Vuja de.”

 

* * out of * * * *

‘I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu’ Has Its World Premiere in Beverly Hills

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A sequel 40 years in the making, “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu,” had its world premiere on April 18, 2019 at the Laemmle Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills, California. Among those in attendance were its director Meir Zarchi who also wrote and directed the 1978 original, his son Terry Zarchi, Camille Keaton who returns as Jennifer Hills, and Jamie Bernadette who plays Jennifer’s daughter, Christy Hills. The sequel sees Jennifer and Christy getting abducted by the infinitely vengeful Becky (Maria Olsen) who looks to make Jennifer pay for what she did to her husband years ago. For those who have seen the original, you can expect blood, gore, acts of revenge which know no bounds, and the intensely painful separation of certain body parts which no one is ever quick to part with.

Following the screening, there was a Q&A with the cast and filmmakers who were also watching this sequel on the big screen for the very first time. It was an exciting evening for everyone as this sequel was actually finished back in 2015, and it is only now being released. When Keaton was asked what made her return to this iconic role, she made it clear how she wanted Zarchi to make a sequel for many years.

“I had been trying to get him to make a sequel to this movie for about 30, 35 years at least,” Keaton said. “One day I get a call, and lo and behold (Meir Zarchi told me) we’re gonna make a sequel. So I said, what? I was surprised and was happy we were going to do this, and it was great to work with him again.”

Jamie Bernadette was asked how she came to be cast in “Déjà vu,” and her response showed how thoughtful she is as a working actress.

“I saw the casting notice and I had seen the original 1978 film and thought it was brilliant,” Jamie said. “The casting notice said Christy Hills was a supermodel and gorgeous, and I thought no, I’m not going to submit. I’ll never get this. And then I sat and stared at that notice and said you know what, what the heck. So, I just pushed a button, and then I got asked for a tape. So I sent in a tape and I thought well, I won’t get a callback but we’ll just do this for kicks. Sent in a tape and I got called back in and I thought, you know what, if I meet Meir Zarchi, I’m happy. So, I walked into that callback room and Meir was sitting there with Terry (Zarchi), our producer. I did the scenes and I was in there for like 40 minutes. It was a long audition, and then Terry caught me on my way to the elevator and said can I take my picture with you because Terry told me later that he just knew before I spoke…”

“(It was) the eyes, the eyes,” Terry Zarchi said. “There was a look that she gives… She gave that look in the audition before she uttered a word. I said wow, that spoke so many words without her saying a word. I can’t wait to hear her, and then a second later three words came out of her. I really hoped Meir likes her enough to (cast her), because he has the ultimate decision on who is going to be cast, but I knew.”

Terry’s relationship with the “I Spit on Your Grave” movies began when he was just nine years old and back when the 1978 original was referred to as “Day of the Woman.”

“I had a hippie guy come up to me while I was on the set and asked me hey, do you want to be in the movie,” Terry said. “I was like no, I really don’t. I was a shy kid, and they talked me into it by saying that my father would offer me $10 if I did the film. I decided to do the film.”

Meir Zarchi himself eventually made it to the front of the audience, and he answered the question which was all on our minds before anyone could ask it.

“Somebody asked me why did it take 40 years to make this sequel,” said Meir. “So I said because I was waiting (he points to Jamie) for this girl. She wasn’t born yet.”

An audience member asked the cast what they did to prepare for their roles and of what they did to get into the psychotic mindset. Jamie was very open about the research she did.

“I spent months watching horrific videos about rape and murder, and I had a lot of nightmares during those months,” Jamie said. “I watched the original film over and over. It was a lot of research into gang rape and things like that, so it was a dark time. I also lost a lot of weight for the role because I am playing an anorexic model. Every day was emotional.”

This evening also allowed Meir to share a moment with Camille whom he married after the making of “I Spit on Your Grave.” Unfortunately, their union did not last long as they divorced in 1982 after three years of marriage. Still, they appeared to have a great respect for one another, and it should be noted how Camille flew all the way over from Florida just for this screening (“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she said).

“Tell us, what do you think about seeing yourself on the big screen after 40 years for this time,” Meir asked Camille.

“I felt the same way I felt about it when I saw myself the first time,” Camille replied.

“That’s a lie, that’s a beautiful lie” Meir said. “You know we were married once. No wonder she divorced me. What did I do? What did I do wrong?”

“I don’t think you did anything wrong,” Camille replied.

Regardless, they both shared a kiss which had the audience applauding.

2018 had Jamie Lee Curtis resurrecting Laurie Strode to tremendous effect in “Halloween,” and now Camille Keaton gets to do the same with Jennifer Hills while at the same time passing on the torch of vengeful female to Jamie Bernadette. As for Meir Zarchi, he isn’t terribly concerned whether or not you like or hate “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu.” He does, however, want to make certain you were not bored while watching it. Suffice to say, the audience responded loudly that they were not.

I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” is set to be released on DVD and Blu-ray April 23, 2019.

The video below is from the Q&A following “Deja Vu’s” screening. My apologies for the the shakiness and visual quality as I shot this on my cell phone. Still, it was fun to hear how the cast and crew came to work on this long-awaited sequel.

The First Trailer for ‘I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu’ Has Been Unleashed

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As much as I despise the controversial 1978 exploitation classic “I Spit on Your Grave,” I cannot help but be intrigued by its upcoming sequel. 40 years after Jennifer Hill (Camille Keaton) was brutally assaulted, left for dead and eventually reaped bloody revenge on her assailants, she rises again for another “Day of the Woman” in the eagerly anticipated sequel “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà Vu.” Keaton returns to her iconic role along with Meir Zarchi who also wrote and directed the original, and one has to wonder how much more brutality Jennifer can possibly endure even after suffering unimaginable horrors decades before.

The trailer starts off with images from “I Spit on Your Grave” which last long enough to remind us how brutal and uncomfortable the first film was, and the moment where Jennifer has one of her attackers relaxing comfortably in the bathtub as she gently lifts up a knife she has hidden away still has men crossing their legs automatically. Whatever your thoughts were on the original, its lasting impact in the realm of revenge and exploitation films cannot be denied. It inspired a remake which was followed up by several sequels, but this follow up ignores them and focuses on the aftermath of what came before.

40 years later, we see Jennifer having a nice lunch with her daughter, Christy (Jamie Bernadette), but while walking back to their cars, they are greeted by a rabid fan gets Jennifer’s attention and asks her to sign a copy of her book. That this guy has a face which makes him look like a disciple of Charles Manson, and this is the first sign of things about to go very bad. Also, he is coming up to these ladies in a white van which, aside from the passenger and driver side, has no windows to see what’s in the back. This makes it all the easier for the fan and his driver to abduct Jennifer and Christy and throw them inside while no one else is looking.

From there, we know history will repeat itself in an intensely bloody fashion as Jennifer and Christy are greeted by an especially deranged matriarch named Becky (Maria Olsen), wife of the man Jennifer castrated in the bathtub. Becky promises both Jennifer and Christy a slow ride to hell as she seeks to avenge the men Jennifer killed, but neither of them are about to go quietly into that gentle night. This is especially the case with Christy who, at one point in the trailer, says she has her mother’s genes but none of her forgiveness.

Okay, this does not look like a great movie to say the least, but I am interested in checking it out in part to see if Zarchi’s filmmaking skills have improved in the slightest since 1978. Furthermore, even if you hated the original, you had to admire Keaton’s bravery as her character endured an infinitely appalling attack I would never wish on my worst enemy, and this sequel would not be worth the effort had she not agreed to reprise her role here.

Aside from Keaton, there are two actresses who stand out prominently in this trailer. One is Maria Olsen who looks to give a scenery-chewing performance as the embittered widow aiming to give Jennifer a taste of her own gory medicine. Granted, some of her acting looks like it just might be featured on the “Exquisite Acting” segment of Hollywood Babble-On, but she may very well give this sequel the hateful antagonist it deserves.

The other is Jamie Bernadette who plays Christy Hills. We see Christy wreaking bloody havoc on her captors to where she has bloodstains on her face much like her mother had years before. Bernadette has previously appeared in such movies as “Mortdecai” opposite Johnny Depp, and “The Darkness” which starred Kevin Bacon. If she hasn’t snuck into your consciousness yet, she will after this sequel is unleashed.

As for the male characters, they look to have the same luck as those crew members of the Starship Enterprise who are forced to wear red shirts on the average episode of “Star Trek.”

Again, this is unlikely to be a great cinematic experience, and the trailer cannot hide the signs of the limited budget the filmmakers had to work with. Filming on this sequel was completed back in 2015, and it is only now getting a release. Still, in a time where alternate timelines are more popular than ever, whether its J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” or the latest “Halloween” movie we’re talking about, this direct sequel to “I Spit on Your Grave” is something horror and exploitation movie fans cannot ignore.

“I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” is set to be released on DVD and Blu-ray April 23, 2019. If Roger Ebert were still alive, I have no doubt he would be thrilled at how this sequel is not being shown on the silver screen (or at least, not yet).

Check out the trailer below.

‘I Saw the Devil’ Serves Up Revenge at its Coldest and Most Brutal

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Many people will be quick to criticize “I Saw the Devil” as being excessively and unnecessarily violent. Indeed, it is an unrelentingly grim cinematic experience as we watch a serial killer chop up beautiful young women into little pieces and the boyfriend of one of them getting his revenge on the evil bastard. I’m guessing there will be a number of critics as well who will say Americans would never come up with such graphic depictions, but we know otherwise (“Saw” or “Hostel” anyone?).

But unlike other horror movies, “I Saw the Devil” does not exist to simply gross us out or make us uncomfortable as humanly possible. There’s a real story here amidst all the carnage about the hollowness of wanting revenge and of what it does to those who seek and get it. But Jee-woon Kim, the same man who directed “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” has created a motion picture which finds brutally fresh new twists that keep us pinned to our seats for the entire two and a half hour running time. Yes, it is truly unrelenting.

The movie starts off with the beautiful Joo-yeon (Oh San-Ha) talking with her fiancé Soo-Hyun (Lee Byung-hun) on the phone while she is waiting in her car on a snowy road out in the middle of nowhere. Before you know it, a man by the name of Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) viciously attacks and knocks her out. Back at his grungy workshop, Joo-yeon begs for her life and tells Kyung-chul she is pregnant, but it does no good. Kyung-chul’s face is an enigma as you are not sure what he is feeling at the moment. You want to think he has some form of empathy in his rotten soul, but to him this is a luxury he cannot afford. Either way, it doesn’t stop him from chopping away at Joo-yeon with a rusty hatchet.

Upon finding her severed head in a nearby lake, Soo-Hyun, a special agent, vows to make her attacker feel the same exact pain he made his victims feel. From there, the movie turns into a cat and mouse game, and we begin to wonder which of them is the more vicious and violent. Unlike most American revenge thrillers where we can tell the hero apart from the bad guy, the line between them is hard at times to make out.

The first thing I want to say about “I Saw the Devil” is just how beautiful the cinematography by Lee Mo-gae is. It’s kind of a cross between the vivid colors of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” and the immensely cold and snowy landscape of “Let the Right One In.” I’m guessing Kim Jee-woon and Lee Mo-gae were inspired by the filmmakers of both movies, and even he succeeds in finding a beauty amidst all the hideous carnage which goes on. The image of the snow proves to be a metaphor for how cold the soul of the two main characters are or have since become, and things grow colder for them all the way towards the movie’s messy climax.

In terms of acting, Choi Min-sik’s performance stands above everyone else’s here. Choi is best known for his amazing and unforgettable performance in Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy.” Throughout the movie’s running time, he never tries to hide the fact his character of Kyung-chul is a pure psychopath and a manipulator of emotions he is unable to fully experience on his own. It’s a brave performance which doesn’t hold back anything, and it makes you wonder what depths the actor went to in playing such a twisted human being.

Lee Byung-hun also deserves points for bravery as the now fiancé-less Soo-Hyun. This is the character we most easily identify with here, but he soon becomes “I Saw the Devil’s” most tragic one as well. We can’t really blame him for wanting revenge and to torture this killer without a conscience, but as the movie goes on, we see how his quest for vengeance it is destroying whatever is left of his damaged soul. Lee makes us care about this man even as he becomes almost as depraved as Kyung-Chul. Even when he slices off a key part of Kyung’s body, we still follow him even if we are increasingly repelled by his actions. His conscience comes out in the form of Soo-Hyun’s family, but their sane take on the situation is not enough to pull him back from the abyss of hatred he is forever trapped in.

Make no mistake, “I Saw the Devil” is a seriously violent motion picture. It feels like forever since I’ve seen so much blood spurting out of the human body on the silver screen. I also can’t remember the last time a guillotine was used so predominantly in a movie either. All the same, like any great Argento movie, it’s rendered in the most beautiful cinematic fashion. This is not your average “Friday the 13th” sequel where things are thrown together in the cheapest way possible. The colors are vividly realized, making everything we see here all the more cinematically gruesome.

Once you get past the seemingly unending carnage, you will see how these two men pretty much deserve one another. “I Saw the Devil” is a strong character piece featuring people who, in any other movie, would be at opposite ends of the law-abiding spectrum, but who have more in common with one another than they initially realized. While a part of us wants to see this sick bastard suffer horribly, there’s another part slowly reminding us how we can suffer just as much in wanting an eye for an eye. It’s also full of twists and turns you cannot see coming, and none of them seems convoluted in the slightest. The movie is full of surprises, many of them incredibly grim. If you thought “Harry Brown” was dark, this will redefine the term for you.

Now look, I am not saying it is bad to like revenge/retribution movies. Lord knows we need them every once in a while in order to exercise the parts of our psyche which are hopefully ruled over by common sense. But sometimes we need a cinematic reminder of how wrong it can be to get what you wish for. Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible” was one of the harshest examples of this, and “I Saw the Devil” is not far behind.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘I Spit on Your Grave’ Remains an Infinitely Repulsive Motion Picture

I Spit On Your Grave 1978 poster

I should have known better than to sit through this infamous motion picture. Years ago, when I received my first Roger Ebert Home Movie companion as a Christmas present, I read his review in which he described this particular movie as a “vile piece of garbage” and that attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of his life. After I finished reading his review, I felt as though I had watched as he didn’t even warn his readers how his review contained spoilers, and it showed how serious he was about convincing us to avoid this exploitation film as he found it to have no redeeming value in the slightest.

Reading Ebert’s review of “I Spit on Your Grave” filled my head with images my young brain had no business thinking about at such a tender young age, but I probably would never have known about this movie were it not for his review. As the years went by, the thought of it remained strong in my consciousness to where I was compelled to find out more about it. Plus, it had a cool movie trailer I couldn’t help but watch multiple times. Then again, “Maximum Overdrive” also had a really cool trailer, and we all know how that one turned out. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but I am still alive, therefore I am no cat.

I Spit on Your Grave” is by far one of the most repulsive motion pictures I have ever allowed myself to sit through, and I have seen “The Human Centipede 3.” It tries to pass itself off as a feminist movie, but it instead proves to be a complete insult to feminism, and you don’t need to be a woman to realize this is the case. Even in the realm of exploitation movies, I could not divorce myself from the moral standards I was raised to believe in as they came into play here.

In case you don’t know the plot of “I Spit on Your Grave,” it follows Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) as she drives from Manhattan to an isolated cottage out in Connecticut in an effort to start writing her first novel. While there, she attracts the attention of three men and their mentally disabled friend, Matthew, who eventually abduct and brutally rape her for what seems like an eternity. Somehow, she survives and eventually turns the tables on her attackers in ways which will have men crossing their legs more often than not.

This is a motion picture I found myself skimming through more than watching as the rapes prove to be far too disturbing to endure. The sexual assault of Jennifer lasts for over half an hour, and just when you think it is over, it starts up again to where I wondered what writer and director Meir Zarchi was trying to prove. If he wanted to show how unforgivably brutal a crime rape is, he succeeded far more than he needed to.

For what it’s worth, I have to give Camille Keaton credit as she does make Jennifer’s suffering feel all too real to where she deserves a Purple Heart for her efforts. While the performances in “I Spit on Your Grave” are generally poor, Keaton doesn’t hide from the terrors her character is forced to experience in the most demeaning way possible. There is something to be said for her work even as this film proves to be every bit as deplorable as the violence perpetrated on her character.

At the same time, the major flaw of “I Spit on Your Grave” is how it revels in its heroine’s degradation more than in her revenge. In fact, Jennifer’s bloody vengeance on her attackers takes up less than half the time Zarchi spent on her multiple rapes, and there is something deeply wrong when you realize this. Jennifer comes to strangle, decapitate, castrate and disembowel those men who inflicted an infinite amount of cruelty on her, but we never feel her satisfaction as the morality of what she is doing never feels as justified as you would expect it to in any other exploitation film.

Another big problem with “I Spit on Your Grave” is that it is such an amateurishly made motion picture. The artistry behind the camera is seriously lacking to where the low budget cannot be blamed for this film’s shortcomings. There is no music score to speak of, and there is very little to no music throughout. As a result, the whole thing feels like a home movie which never should have seen the light of day.

The original title of “I Spit on Your Grave” was “Day of the Woman,” and this should show how intent Zarchi was on selling this as a feminist movie. But seriously, this is not what a feminist movie looks like in the slightest. While Jennifer is certainly entitled to her revenge, it doesn’t take away from the fact that what she does is just as bad, if not worse, than what those men did to her. This may be nothing more than a movie, but it is hard for me to escape this fact.

There are other movies which deal with rape in a far more probing and intelligent manner than “I Spit on Your Grave.” Among them are “The Accused” which stars Jodie Foster in her first Oscar-winning performance, and Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible” which features a scene in which Monica Bellucci’s character is raped and beaten for 10 minutes straight and in a single shot. Even Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left,” a movie every bit as violent as this one, dealt with rape and revenge in a way which was as intelligent as any subject Craven dealt with in his career.

And yet after all these years, I find myself writing about “I Spit on Your Grave” as if it were a motion picture worthy of being celebrated. Many may see it as a film worth noticing, but I say it is one you must avoid even if you are open to movies which are psychologically damaging to sit through. It is also so poorly made to where you want to smack its most ardent fans in the face and ask them what they see in it. Some may defend its quality, but this will only make you wonder what the term quality actually means.

As I write this review, “I Spit on Your Grave” has long since been remade, and that remake has so far spawned two sequels. Also, it has just been announced that Zarchi completed a direct sequel to the original entitled “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” which will be released in 2018. All I can hope is that the sequel will show Zarchi as having learned more about filmmaking in the 40 years since he inflicted this infamous motion picture on us.

* out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: I really wanted to give this film a ZERO STARS rating, but I cannot deny the credit Camille Keaton deserves for enduring what she did here.

‘Dead Man Down’ Reunites Niels Arden Oplev with his Lisbeth Salander

Dead Man Down movie poster

The tagline for “Dead Man Down” is “revenge is coming.” But while revenge is a big theme, it’s really about forgiveness. These characters have been forever wounded by a past which will not let them be, and they spend their time trying to avenge it in order to find some form of peace in their lives. What results is a movie which doesn’t break any new ground (few movies these days do anyway), but it is still a compelling one filled with complex characters and twists I didn’t see coming.

We meet Victor (Colin Farrell), the right-hand man to ruthless New York crime lord Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard), and he defends his boss in a nasty firefight at the movie’s start. Quickly, we assume Victor is as loyal to Alphonse as any gangland player could ever be and that he will soon get a meteoric rise to the top of the criminal food chain. However, it turns out Victor is actually seeking revenge against Alphonse for killing his wife and child, and he is getting closer and closer to exacting his revenge.

But then Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a woman who lives in an apartment across from Victor’s, enters the picture. Beatrice is still recovering emotionally from a nasty car accident which has left her face permanently scarred. While the scar hasn’t taken away all her beauty, it has destroyed her self-image and left her with a deep-seated rage she is desperate to be rid of.

After a dinner where the two of them make small talk and discover things they have in common, Beatrice makes her real intentions clear to Victor; she wants him to kill the drunk driver who plowed into her car and ruined her face. Moreover, she is willing to blackmail Victor into doing this as she has evidence of him killing another man. Knowing Victor is capable of taking a life, she gives him no choice but to take another. Both have strong motivations for vengeance, but can they tear themselves away from their rage long enough to see the damage they are doing to one another?

Right from the start, “Dead Man Down” is filled with twists and turns which makes this average revenge thriller all the more entertaining to sit through. Even if the twists aren’t entirely plausible, they keep us on the edge of our seats as we can only guess what will happen next. Just when you think you know where things are going, you don’t.

But what I really liked about this movie was how wonderfully complex the characters were. There is nothing black and white about them as everyone exists in a morally grey area. While Victor and Beatrice are clearly justified in having their revenge, we know the ways they are seeking it will do not make them good people. Even Alphonse comes across as much more than an average one-dimensional bad guy as he is someone who certainly wasn’t born evil. While certain characters may deserve some form of punishment over others, no one comes out of this story the least bit innocent.

“Dead Man Down” marks the first English language film from writer and director Niels Arden Oplev, the same man who gave us the original version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” as well as the recent remake of “Flatliners.” Now when filmmakers from a foreign country come over to America, their talents usually get compromised in the process. But Oplev doesn’t appear to have lost any of his skill here as he gives us a strong motion picture filled with fascinating characters. He also gets terrific performances from each of his actors as well as some strong visual moments such as a descent down the middle of a stairwell.

Colin Farrell has gone from doing needless remakes like “Fright Night” and “Total Recall” to terrific movies such as “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths.” He has become an actor who can go from playing a good guy to a bad guy with relative ease, and this makes him perfect for a character like Victor who could be seen as either. Farrell does excellent work in conveying Victor’s conflicted emotions as he goes about exacting his revenge. As he gets closer to achieving his goal, Victor begins to see how he is becoming just like those who destroyed his life. Seeing the pain in Farrell’s eyes as he makes this clear to the audience without words shows us how great of an actor he can be when given the right material.

Noomi Rapace, the original Lisbeth Salander, is a powerhouse as Beatrice. Watching Rapace deal with her rage as well as the bad luck life has dealt her is enthralling to take in, and the scenes where she is attacked by a group of children who see her as a monster are devastating to witness. Like Salander, Beatrice is stuck in a moment which forever changed the course of her life, but Rapace gets to showcase more of a vulnerability here she wasn’t able to express as much in her star making performance. She remains a compelling actress to keep an eye on, and it’s great to see her reunited here with Oplev.

But I the performance which most impressed me was Terrence Howard’s as Alphonse Hoyt. Now when you see an actor take on the role of an evil crime lord, you expect them to chew the scenery and give an over the top performance. But Howard doesn’t do this here, and it is clear he has given this role a lot of thought. There is no doubt that Alphonse is an evil dude, but Howard is excellent in giving a method to this man’s madness. Howard left such a powerful impression on us with his Oscar nominated performance in “Hustle & Flow,” and his performance in “Dead Man Down” is a reminder of how he never lets us down as an actor.

In addition, there is a really good supporting performance by Dominic Cooper as Victor’s friend Darcy, and he has a wonderful scene at the start where he is holding his baby and talking about how he hopes being a father will lead him to a better future. The great Isabelle Huppert also shows up as Beatrice’s mom, Valentine, and she remains a remarkable actress even in the smallest of roles. There’s also strong cinematography from Paul Cameron and a wonderfully atmospheric film score from composer Jacob Groth to take in as well.

“Dead Man Down” is not the equal of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and its climax is a bit over the top for a movie like this, but I liked how character driven it was and you don’t see many movies like that these days. It is also a compelling story about how the power of forgiveness is more important than the need for revenge. In this day and age, it is important to remember that.

* * * out of * * * *

Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Elle’ Gets a New Trailer and an ‘Empty Stare’ Clip

elle_usposter

Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven has given us unforgettable movies like “Robocop,” “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct,” and he had gleeful fun satirizing the war propaganda machine with “Starship Troopers.” Now he returns with his first movie in ten years, his last being the excellent “Black Book,” the psychological thriller “Elle” which stars the brilliant (and not to mention brave) French actress Isabelle Huppert. From watching the trailer, it looks like Verhoeven is up to his usual button-pushing tricks, but the viewer should not go into this expecting “Basic Instinct” redux.

Based on the novel “Oh…” by Philippe Djian, Huppert plays Michèle Leblanc, the head of a leading video game company, and the plot synopsis describes her as seemingly “indestructible” as she “brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business.” As the movie’s trailer begins, Michèle is at a dinner party where she tells a group of friends she was sexually assaulted, and she presents this confession in a calm and collected manner. Whereas you might expect a scene where a rape victim has a nervous breakdown as she accepts the reality of what she’s been through, Michèle doesn’t even blink an eye. Her friends, however, are shocked at this news to where they encourage the waiter, who has just brought a lovely bottle of wine, to come back in a few minutes.

Throughout the trailer, we see Michèle go about her work and life as if nothing has changed, but it becomes clear the attack has forever left a huge psychological scar on her which cannot be wiped away. Her need for revenge is understandable, and Verhoeven’s movies are well known for their characters getting vicious revenge on their attackers, and the trailer shows her as a ticking bomb waiting to go off. In the end, one can remain cool for only so long.

“Elle” is being released by Sony Pictures Classics, and they recently unveiled a clip from the movie titled “Empty Stare.” Watching this clip, there’s no doubt Verhoeven picked the right actress to star here. Huppert has taken on challenging roles in Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher,” Christophe Honoré’s “Ma Mère” and Claude Chabrol’s “La Cérémonie,” and she looks to have risen to the challenges Verhoeven has put in front of her here. As Michèle tells an unsettling story about her father to a male friend, Huppert makes you wonder if she is telling the truth or simply playing around with someone who doesn’t know her very well. The beauty of watching Huppert is how she creates such vivid and frightening imagery with just words. Other directors would add flashbacks to give this scene more emotional power, but Verhoeven doesn’t need to do this when he has Huppert to work with.

“Elle” was shown at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where it received critical acclaim and a seven-minute standing ovation. Guy Lodge of Variety proclaimed on Twitter that “Isabelle Huppert might be our best living actor, and ‘Elle’ might be Paul Verhoeven’s best film.” Verhoeven has said the movie is not to be mistaken for an “erotic thriller” in the vein of “Basic Instinct,” and that anyone who goes into it thinking it is will be “disillusioned.”

Adventurous moviegoers look to be in for a dark treat when “Elle” opens in New York and Los Angeles on November 11. Please be sure to check out the movie’s trailer and the “Empty Stare” clip below.