Heavenly Creatures (1994)

[rate 5]

Chilling, suspenseful, wonderful: Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures is still lingering with me days after I watched it. Although I had initial qualms with slow points (easily explained: Netflix sends the “uncut” version) those concerns were quickly put to rest as the film built up steam. Jackson is at his finest here, directing (mostly) layered performances, structuring and organizing the plot extremely well, and creating a tight script (with wife and writing partner Fran Walsh).

As a director, I often focus on the arcs that characters and plots undergo. To me, the changes and transformations made in a story are the most intriguing (what would a story be without change and transformation) and thus when analyzing performance or plot that’s the first place I look to critique. And in this film, Jackson and his players are certainly spot on. Lynskey is stunning, opening the film quiet and reserved, and ending with murder. Likewise, Kate Winslet is a revelation. Her transformation is subtler and internalized, and all the more powerful for it. While her performance isn’t as nuanced as her more recent work (I did find myself cringing at a few line readings) it’s still commendable – this part is no picnic, and she does a tremendous job with complex material.

Structurally, it’s quite typical Peter Jackson; psychological human drama mixed with elements of fantasy or fairy tale (see: The Lovely Bones, King Kong, The Lord of the Rings – yes really!). In this case, the fantasy is a world dreamed up by the two girls. The art direction is great for the fantasy sequences, as you’d expect from Jackson standbys Grant Major (Production Designer), Richard Taylor (prosthetics designer), and Ngila Dickson (Costume Designer). And for the most part, they fit well with the movie, as their frequency sort of signifies the girls’ descent into ‘madness.’ An early sequence, referencing a “fourth world” felt awkward though, and although the point was made (“they’re crazy”) without being referenced again it simply felt like an ignored subplot or idea.

Overall though, Heavenly Creatures completely captivated me and had me gripping the edge of my seat with anticipation. It’s brilliantly crafted, and proves that Peter Jackson is not just a one trick ring-bearing pony – he’s a masterful storyteller and intelligent filmmaker.

5 stars out of 5.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

[rate 4]

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (the Wilder original) is still campy, corny, and crazy. But watching it years after childhood, it takes on a new tone.

Witty.

Yes, in my rewatch of this classic children’s flick I discovered just why it appeals to all ages. It’s not just the universal themes of rewarding honesty, punishing greed, and (of course) candy; it actually has a hilarious script with smart, witty dialogue that make it truly enjoyable for even those of us who learned its lessons long ago.

In this revisit, the opening act particularly struck me. It’s full of hilarious cutaways depicting news segments and eager ticket seekers. The bits have a dry, sarcastic tone that I’d never picked up on. Actually, much of the movie does – Wilder’s performance especially. When he emotionally and joyfully reveals that Charlie will be given the factory we too are surprised and our hearts are warmed thanks to the use of emotional contrast.

It’s definitely worth a revisit if you haven’t seen it in some time. And if you have seen it recently, you too can attest to the zest the movie adds with maturity.

4 stars out of 5.

Doubt (2008)

[rate 4]

I recently got a Netflix account on a free trial from a friend. It has instant streaming.

It’s awesome.

The instant streaming feature alone is worth the price of admission (which, for the time being, is zilch for me). The first movie I watched on Instant Streaming was the 2008 film Doubt, starring Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis.

I’d seen it in theatres, but seeing it again reiterated the initial impressions I had of the movie. As a friend said, it’s a “battle of the actors” – throw the finest film actors of our day on screen and see who comes out on top. In this case, everyone wins, but I wonder at what cost. The ambiguity that made the stage play so powerful is lost in the film, perhaps in part to the crispness of the performances, or Shanley’s very composed, angular visual style. The actors are at the top of their game, but to a degree they go too far, and while it’s still a compelling story, it loses the mystery that made it so much more on stage.

I still grant it four stars – these actors are at their technical peak, and watching their layered characterizations (in spite of how clean or meticulous they may seem) proves that.