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By Vernor Rodgers
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"RABID"

I am ambivalent about remakes, be they movies, television series or songs. It takes a certain amount of craziness, and a lot of courage, to redo a movie, TV show or record because the original was either critically acclaimed or very popular, or both, hence supported by a legion of ardent fans who may not be too happy about someone messing around with a favorite film and such. On the other hand, as a film aficionado I am curious to see what the new vision of these movies, etc., will be. And then this hits me: Movies, TV shows and songs get remade all the time, but nobody dares rewrite the fiction of John Steinbeck, Jane Austen, Jack London, Raymond Chandler or Kurt Vonnegut. It's just the visual / audio medium that seems to have carte blanche to fool around with the classics.

Director David Cronenberg is one of the people whose image should be carved on the Mt. Rushmore of Horror.  He has presented us with such iconic movies as "Scanners," "Videodrome," "Dead Ringers" and "Naked Lunch." But his first attention-gainer was the 1977 film "Rabid." It was scary and gory and even had as its star an adult film hall of famer -- the late Marilyn Chambers. Now, 42 years later, "Rabid" is getting a new treatment, directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska ("American Mary," "See No Evil 2").

It is interesting to note that Cronenberg himself did a remake, of the 1950s Vincent Price-starrer "The Fly," featuring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, and there are many who consider his film far superior, admitting Cronenberg benefited from great advances in special effects to enhance the horror.

The Soskas collaborated with John Serge on the screenplay of "Rabid," which is a story of how unchecked medical science can lead to terrifying results.

"Rabid" is the story of Rose (Laura Vandervoort), a young woman who hopes to become a high level fashion designer, but is struggling in this endeavor. Attending a fashion industry party, she suffers a bit of meltdown and leaves,  departing on her motorcycle and too upset to be a cautious driver. She gets into an accident, resulting in her face being horribly disfigured. Her doctor, Dr. Keloid (Stephen McHattie), offers no optimism about a full recovery, and Rose, who likely had no health insurance plan, feels financially helpless about any reconstructive surgery. But she learns about the Burroughs Clinic, run by Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton), which appears to be an altruistic facility specializing in some radical and untested stem cell research. So essentially, Rose will get the treatment at no cost, but there may be some side effects.

Boy, are there. Rose emerges with a beautifully reconstructed face, but feels a bit off kilter. She is given a supply of some formula to ingest when she feels bad. But now Rose is engaging in nocturnal hedonistic activities and wakes up the next day not knowing if her actions were real or just intensely realistic dreams. Also, she is horrified that, as a vegetarian, she suddenly craves red meat.

It is obvious that Dr. Burroughs is not being totally honest with Rose, as indicated when he takes Rose's boyfriend wannabe, Brad (Benjamin Hollingsworth), aside and chats with him out of Rose's earshot.

Meanwhile, things are going crazy with what appears to be an expanding outbreak of rabies among adults. And Rose's new world begins to collapse on her, including a horrible fate of her best friend and supporter Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot).

"Rabid" has been the subject of some blistering reviews on IMDB, but there are some positive assessments too. I cannot be a totally honest reviewer here because I have known Jen and Sylvia Soska for several years and consider them friends. I flinched at some of the harsh comments but know that the Soskas are resilient -- they have had to be, working in an industry that despite some progress made by women in movie making, still has a ways to go.

So I liked "Rabid." it was what I would expect from the Soskas, who do remarkable things with a cash flow that has be miniscule compared to other film productions.

"Rabid" was made available on streaming platforms in December, coinciding with a limited U.S. theatrical release. It will be available in DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 4.

"RABID" Official Trailer:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8DSRGnTbPo

 

"RICHARD JEWELL"

Although getting some good reviews, "Richard Jewell," directed by Clint Eastwood, has bombed at the box office, as well as received some complaints about its portrayal of media and the FBI.

Billy Ray, who as a screenwriter has an impressive array of movies on his resume -- "Volcano," "Flighplan," "The Hunger Games," "Captain Phillips" and "Overlord" and had a busy 2019 with "Terminator: Dark Fate" and "Gemini Man" -- adapted the screenplay based upon an article by Marie Brenner. It is the true story of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), a security guard during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, who saved hundreds of lives at the Centennial Olympic Park when he spotted a suspicious backpack and managed to get an evacuation going before a device in the pack exploded, resulting in one fatality. At first hailed as a hero, the modest Jewell seems befuddled at all the attention. But then his life is turned inside out when a former employer at a college campus alerts the FBI and tells them Jewell was an overzealous security guard on campus and thus had to be fired.

The FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), smoldering because the bombing took place under his watch, begins to focus most of his energy toward finding evidence to pin the crime on Jewell. It doesn't look good for Jewell, as information comes out about his rocky previous employment. Plus he is an adult still living with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates), and soon Jewell is being profiled as a frustrated law enforcement wannabe who may have planted the bomb in a plot to make himself seem a hero.

Meanwhile, the crime reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) is on the story, and snuggles up to Shaw, who tells her Jewell is being investigated. In a rush to get the scoop out, Scruggs convinces the editor of the paper to go with the story. So Jewell, once praised, is now being convicted by a public that has been fueled by a frenzied media.

Jewell asks an attorney acquaintance of his, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), to offer him legal assistance. Bryant, pretty much a small-time lawyer, is propelled into the national spotlight, and proves to be a pretty tough guy despite the overwhelming odds.

The portrayals of Shaw and Scruggs, which would make for great drama in a fictional story, have instead garnered criticism. And to make it more difficult, Scruggs, who had a history of depression, died of a drug overdose in 2001, thus cannot defend herself.

While I cannot comment on the actions of the FBI, as a retired veteran of 39 years in the newspaper business, I do question the validity of the way Scruggs and the Atlanta paper were presented. There is a scene where, when the breaking story of Jewell being investigated is published, people in the newsroom stand up and cheer Scruggs. I never saw that happen in a newsroom, even when three reporters on our staff won a Pulitzer Prize. As to the decision to run the story, it shows one senior editor making the decision to publish it. In my experience, the decision to publish such a story would have been discussed by several top-level editors, possibly even the publisher, and would have assuredly been subject to scrutiny by the legal department. The fact that Scruggs had only one source was problematic too (see "All the President's Men").

That said, "Richard Jewell" is a fine film, enhanced by great performances, particularly by Bates as a loving mother having to watch helplessly as her only child is put through such a wringer and her home almost literally torn apart; and Rockwell as the resourceful lawyer who not only is outgunned but has to deal with Jewell, just a good old guy whose candidness makes things even worse. And Hauser is superb as Jewell, a man who is modest but naive and perpetually an outsider taken on a hell ride he did not deserve. Happily, Jewell is vindicated when the FBI has to admit there is no evidence he planted the bomb (a fact even Scruggs realized too late) and years later the actual bomber is tracked down.

"RICHARD JEWELL" Official Trailer:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSMxBLlA8qY

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