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November 29, 2012

Reel Advice:
Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights"

BY
GREGG SHAPIRO

Andrea Arnold's
In theaters: New Heights

Directed by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Andrea Arnold ("Fish Tank"), "Wuthering Heights" (Oscilloscope) takes a daringly po-mo approach to the Bronte tale of Heathcliff and Catherine, out there on the wiley, windy moors. With its minimal dialogue and artily framed shots, in and out of focus, the film has a Terence Malick feel to it.

Doing the Christian thing, Catherine's father Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton), brings young, feral orphan Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) home and offers him a place to stay at Wuthering Heights. Unfortunately, his children Catherine (Shannon Beer) and Hindley (Lee Shaw) aren't as receptive.

It doesn't take Catherine long to warm up to Heathcliff and the young duo begins to spend time together. Catherine connects with Heathcliff's non-conformist spirit. A sexual attraction also develops between the two. Following the death of Mr. Earnshaw, Hindley takes control of running the house and continues to treat Heathcliff without respect, reducing him to servant status and brutalizing him on a regular basis. In spite of Hindley's disapproval Catherine and Heathcliff's relationship continues to evolve.

Seasons change as Catherine grows into a young lady. Hindley takes more control of her life, steering her further away from Heathcliff and into the arms of landed gentry such as young Edgar (Jonathan Powell ). When Catherine accepts Edgar's proposal of marriage it signals an end to any future with Heathcliff, leading him into exile.

Heathcliff (James Howson) returns, a self-made man, and pays a visit to Cathy (Kaya Scodelario), lady of the house to husband Edgar (James Northcote). The electricity between them
is still palpable and Heathcliff vows to never leave her again. But as anyone with even a modest familiarity with the story knows, it's not meant to be. Focusing on the obsession, cruelty and brutality of the story, in equal measure, this version of "Wuthering Heights" is as far from Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon as you can get. While Arnold's vision for this version is an admirable experiment, it is ultimately unsatisfying, bordering on pretentious. Arnold is better off sticking with the contemporary stories she tells so well.

Andrea Arnold's
At home: True stories

Tim Wolff's documentary "The Sons of Tennessee Williams" (First Run Features) celebrates more than 40 years of the gay Mardi Gras balls and krewes (Carnival-oriented organizations and social clubs). Through archival film footage and photographs, as well as interviews with more than dozen gay men, this vivid movie allows New Orleans to take its rightful place alongside other gay American metropolises.

With Mardi Gras as the backdrop, "The Sons of Tennessee Williams" recounts the history and formation of the various krewes and their contributions to making Carnival the anticipated event that it is every year. From stories of police harassment, gay-bashing and life in the closet during the 1950s to the birth of the balls in the early 1960s to post-Stonewall gay culture, as well as the impact of AIDS and Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans' LGBT community, the doc goes into fascinating and informative detail. Culminating in the 40th anniversary of the Krewe of Armeinius Ball, "The Sons of Tennessee Williams" does its namesake proud in the way it portrays and celebrates gay life in the Big Easy.

DVD special features include bonus footage such as "The Mystic Krewe of Celestial Knights: The Pinnacle of Balls," deleted scenes, a costume photo gallery and more.

Taking viewers through four seasons in the life of a city wrestling with senseless violence, "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James returns to Chicago's inner-city with "The Interrupters" PBS/Frontline/Kartemquin). Focusing on three violence interrupters from the anti-urban violence coalition CeaseFire, the doc is as much about the impact people can have on the lives of others as it is about how people who want to change the direction of their lives can do so.

Beginning in summer during a meeting at the CeaseFire office in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, a clash breaks out on the street, resulting not only in bodily injury (i.e. the loss of teeth) but also retribution from butcher knife-toting family members. This example of the way the carnage cycles and escalates, sets the "grievances justify violence" tone for the remainder of the film.

Ameena Matthews, daughter of legendary gang leader Jeff Fort (currently serving a life sentence for terrorism) and an ex-gang enforcer herself, is one of the violence interrupters profiled. Her
own story is as compelling as any in the film. When she takes troubled teen Caprysha under her wing, refusing to give up on her, it makes perfect sense.

Cobe Williams, 38, who served 12 years for drug trafficking and attempted murder, is the second interrupter featured in the film. He works with Letoya Oliver, a mother of three sons, one of whom is in prison and the other two are in rival gangs. He also meets with "Flamo," whose mission of vengeance almost undoes him, as well as "Lil Mikey," who was released from prison at 17. The emotional and dramatic high point of the film occurs when "Lil Mikey" returns to the scene of the crime, the barbershop that he held up, to offer a heartfelt apology to the people whose lives he forever changed.

Interrupter Eddie Bocanegra, who served 14 years, half of his life, for a murder he committed as a teenager, sees his mission as a personal. His presence in the life of students at the Namaste Charter School as well as the young sister of a teen who died in her arms are also emotionally overwhelming.

What makes "The Interrupters" particularly poignant is the way that the headline and national news-making murder of Derrion Albert is woven into the fabric of the story. The tragedy called necessary attention to the epidemic and created interest in finding ways to stop the killing. Ultimately, "The Interrupters" provide a message of hope amidst the desperation, light in the bleak darkness. DVD special features include almost an hour's worth of deleted as well as the theatrical trailer.

 
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