Lee Daniels’s “The Paperboy” was pretty widely panned at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and I can see why.
The film, which is the director’s follow-up to “Precious,” is a consistently ludicrous, frequently lurid and only occasionally entertaining melodrama and thriller.
The talented cast, which includes Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack and Zac Efron, is required to ham it up for most of the proceedings, which begin with the grotesque murder of a hated sheriff somewhere in the deep South in 1969.
Hillary Van Wetter (Cusack), a sleazeball on death row, has convinced bombshell Charlotte (Kidman) of his innocence in the slaying. She enlists the aid of reporters Ward (McConaughey) and Yardley (David Oyelowo) as well as Ward’s younger brother, Jack (Efron), to prove Van Wetter’s innocence.
At times, “The Paperboy” appears to have something to say about Southern racism in the 1960s during scenes in which Yardley (Oyelowo) butts heads with several of the town’s prominent citizens or others involving housekeeper Anita (Macy Gray).
But these sequences play second fiddle to the picture’s numerous – and occasionally bloody – plot twists and ridiculous scenes in which Kidman plays seductress.
The Oscar winner is given the heaviest lifting in turns of absurd scenes. I don’t know which I liked better – the one in which Charlotte pretends to pleasure Van Wetter during a prison visit or the other in which she urinates on Efron’s chest after he is stung by a jellyfish.
“The Paperboy” could have been significantly better, but it’s mostly content to wallow in outrageous and trashy behavior.
Speaking of ridiculous, Liam Neeson returns as the world’s most resourceful covert agent in “Taken 2.” This time, he takes his daughter (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife (Famke Janssen) on a trip to Istanbul only to have the entire family menaced by the families of the Albanian criminals he bumped off in the first film.
To be fair, the picture is quickly paced, often amusing and skillfully shot. On the other hand, it’s completely ridiculous.
My favorite scene is when Neeson attempts to locate his daughter by asking her to remove grenades from a suitcase in her possession and toss them onto roofs throughout Istanbul. Works every time.
There’s plenty of action in the film’s brisk 90 minutes, but those who want their thrillers to have some semblance of reality might want to look elsewhere.
The omnibus horror film “V/H/S/” has its pleasures, but they are too few and far between for the picture’s two-hour running time.
The film kicks off with a weak wrap-around story by director Adam Wingard involving a group of loathsome thieves who break into a house to retrieve a VHS cassette.
Upon arriving on the scene, they discover a dead body and a stack of tapes. They pop in several of the tapes, which lead into five segments that are directed by five of horror’s upcoming filmmakers.
David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night,” the first segment, is easily the strongest of the bunch. In it, another group of unlikable guys strap on a pair of Spycam glasses in the hopes of filming their sexual exploits.
At a bar, they pick up a young woman who makes strange bug eyes at the camera. Needless to say, things do not go as planned. This segment is intense and creepy. And I guarantee you’ll never think of the words “I like you” in the same way again.
The second film – by Ti West – is an atmospheric road trip story involving a young couple taunted by a stranger. The film starts off strong, but leads to a confusing ending.
The third segment, in which a camping trip is interrupted by a maniac, and the fourth, which is completely seen through a Skype conversation, didn’t do it for me. The fifth, directed by film collective Radio Silence, is the picture’s second best story. That short involves a group of partygoers who attempt to find a haunted house party only to end up interrupting a devil worshipping ceremony.
Ultimately, the thread that links the stories is weak, the constant shaky camera movements is aggravating and the film is only occasionally scary. I’d recommend seeing two of this anthology’s segments, but then you’d have to sit through it in its entirety. You’ve been warned.
The week’s sole recommendation is for Scottish director Andrea Arnold’s fresh spin on Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.”
This version of the story is grittier, darker and more ethereal than most versions of the classic tale. And the cinematography is stunning.
In Bronte’s novel, Heathcliff was believed to be a gypsy, but in Arnold’s version he is black. This adds an angle of racism not present in the book once the Earnshaws – with the exception of Cathy and her father – begin mistreating Heathcliff.
Otherwise, Arnold’s film stays pretty close to the book. But similar to the classic 1939 version, the film ends at the book’s halfway mark.
What makes this film different from any other version of the story is its visual style. The Earnshaw’s property and most of the film’s characters are continuously caked in mud. And the violence is grittier than you might have imagined from reading Bronte’s prose.
Both Solomon Glave and James Howson give strong performances as the child and adult versions of Heathcliff, while Kaya Scodelario makes a striking adult Cathy.
Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” moves at a measured pace, but those willing to give themselves over to it will be rewarded.