Wuthering Heights is an incredible experience director Andrea Arnold having taken the Emily Brontë novel and turned it on its head in her typically nervy bold style. There's little dialogue it's shot using available natural light and like her previous film Fish Tank stars an unknown actor whose presence commands every scene.
There is moping on the moors in Wuthering Heights but the muddy meditative experience that has almost nothing in common with its predecessors. There's no romantically brooding Olivier or pillow-lipped Tom Hardy here; this is not an experience for teen girls to swoon over. As children Catherine and Heathcliff are odd playmates. Once Mr. Earnshaw dies and Catherine's older brother Hindley takes over the household Heathcliff's life changes drastically for the worse. He's physically and verbally abused and banished to the barn to sleep with the "other animals." It's clear that this is a brand-new nearly incomprehensible world for Healthcliff and it's impossible to not feel empathy for him especially during an aborted attempted at baptizing him. As a teen his relationship with Catherine is magical despite (or because?) how much he risks to just play in the mud with her. An ominous indicator of their lifelong relationship is that she doesn't grasp why her playmate isn't as free as she is to do what she wants. She's sorry that Heathcliff gets beaten for ditching work to play with her but that doesn't stop her from encouraging him. As children they romp like puppies with just a hint of their budding sexuality; they're pure selfish id.
In many ways neither of them outgrow this selfishness. Even when she's married and pregnant Catherine feels Heathcliff betrayed her by leaving. Heathcliff's ruthlessness in his pursuit of revenge is equally childish; we see him torturing dogs that mirrors the actions of Hindley's grubby-faced neglected child. Is it nature or nurture? Is Hindley's child learning by watching the adults around him or should we believe the natural tendency of children is this utterly careless cruelty? Whichever it is there's no doubt that Heathcliff's disavowal of the past and insistence of living in the present — "There's only now " he tells her — has nothing to do with Buddhist mindfulness but a total disregard for how his actions affect others. His initial plan included suicide but this seems much more interesting.
Howson's performance as an adult Heathcliff is remarkable. He's not a sympathetic character — no one is in this film. Although it's not clear whether or not Arnold was specifically looking to cast a person of color for the role of Heathcliff the fact that Howson is black adds an extra layer of complexity to the drama. In the book he's described in such a way that indicates at the very least his ethnic background isn't white but Arnold ups the ante by putting a racial epithet in Hindley's mouth. This drives home the idea of Heathcliff's outsider status; it makes his "otherness" visible.
There's something gentle in Heathcliff's face that belies the nearly sociopathic anger within. When he first seduces Catherine's sister-in-law Isabella as part of his revenge on Catherine it's erotic in a way that makes the viewer complicit in Isabella's eventual destruction. (This serves as an interesting foil to Fish Tank and its ethically troubling but arousing sex scenes with Michael Fassbender and Katie Jarvis.) As the adult Catherine Kaya Scodelario puts in a good performance. Her Catherine looks angelic but is all hard angles underneath those lacy flounces. She is the wild shrieking woman to Heathcliff's cold silence and when she is finally quiet it's only because she's succumbed to the furor of their lifelong struggle.
Throughout Wuthering Heights we are put in Heathcliff's shoes. We see Catherine through his eyes and we understand what it feels like to ride on a horse behind her with her hair whipping in our face and the warm flank under our fingers. We are immersed in this sensual experience of being Heathcliff thanks to the magic of Robbie Ryan's cinematography. (Ryan has worked as a cinematographer on all of Arnold's films including her Oscar-winning short Wasp.) The handheld camera work is intense and occasionally nauseating but its immediacy is crucial to the film. Using available light occasionally works against it as some scenes are so dark it's hard to tell what's actually happening.
Wuthering Heights gives rise to an internal debate. If it was edited down more with less lingering shots of bugs crawling across leaves or birds twinned in the sky as obvious metaphors for Heathcliff and Catherine it would be an entirely different experience. Would it be better maybe more enjoyable easier to sit through? Or is that beside the point? Andrea Arnold's talent lies in pushing the viewer past their normal boundaries of what's romantic or beautiful. In Arnold's world a mother and daughter dancing in a kitchen to "Life's a Bitch" by Nas is as loving and joyful as Heathcliff's frenzied attempts to unearth Catherine's coffin. You either decide you're all in or you're not.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Eddie Murphy is terrific in Imagine That as Evan Danielson an overworked financial advisor who is so immersed in his job he’s forgotten about Olivia his daughter from an estranged marriage. When he is given custody for a week and he gets too busy with work she retreats into her fantasy world imagining a group of princesses who as it turns out really know their way around big business. When Dad figures out his daughter’s special blanket and otherworldly friends have the magic touch for investment advice he becomes an instant superstar in his firm. But his newfound success soon sets up a confrontation with his chief rival Johnny Whitefeather whose presentations are often full of (Red) bull.
WHO’S IN IT?
From Dr. Dolittle to Daddy Day Care Murphy has carved out a solid alternate career as a star of family-friendly movies. But none of those previous works play to his overall talents as a comedian better than Imagine That in which he gets to merge his kid’s fantasy world with office politics for optimum laughs. The purely delightful premise in which Murphy faces off with skeptical business partners is perfectly toned to his talents and allows him to be widely appealing for both kids and their parents. As daughter Olivia newcomer Yara Shahidi won out over 3000 girls and is wonderful a real charmer who goes toe to toe with Eddie. Thomas Haden Church provides the perfect foil for Murphy as Whitefeather a guy who plays off a phony Native American heritage and spouts nonsensical advice like he’s E.F. Hutton. As bosses vying for Murphy’s newfound talents both Ronny Cox and Martin Sheen play it straight lending the appropriate gravitas to their roles. Nicole Ari Parker is winning in her few scenes as Olivia’s mom.
Murphy’s comedic tendency to go way over the top (i.e. Norbit) is kept in check with great results. He’s totally believable as a stressed-out businessman and his trip into his daughter’s imagination is handled realistically mined for the optimum number of laughs without sacrificing credibility. Credit for this goes to Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Hedge) an animation director making his live-action debut for keeping cartoonish antics to a minimum and emphasizing heart and the father/daughter bond instead.
The scenes between Murphy and Shahidi are so effortlessly charming and real that you wish there were more of them. (One highlight is when father teaches daughter to sing Beatles songs which are heard throughout the film.) It’s the kind of thing Bill Cosby did so well on TV but could never pull off in movies. Murphy does.
Murphy is in top comic form all the way and is never better than when he berates Littlefeather’s hokey presentation then comes up with one based on his daughter’s doodlings that shows off the comic genius we haven’t seen in this actor’s comedy vehicles in quite a while.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Imagine That is a family film in the truest form and ripe for an outing with your kids. If you don’t have any rent one and go.
Top Story: Ben Neglects to Call J. Lo Fiancée
The question of will-they-or-won't-they get married is still in the air. Accepting an award from the People for the American Way Foundation Tuesday in Los Angeles, Ben Affleck referred to Jennifer Lopez not as fiancée but rather as his "pretty girlfriend," The Associated Press reports. "I only accept it in the hopes that the absurd amounts of publicity that I received lately, that as far as I can tell is chiefly because I have a pretty girlfriend, that's what I did, I am a champion of the American way with a pretty girlfriend--bring it on, paparazzi, news at 11--in the hopes that some of that publicity might be pointed at something more significant, something more positive, productive and meaningful," Affleck said. The couple was to be married on Sept. 14 but called off the nuptials, citing too much media hype over the event.
Former KISS Guitarist Shot
Bruce Kulick, former guitarist to the metal band KISS, was shot in the leg and grazed by a bullet to the head outside the Rainbow Bar and Grill nightclub on Los Angeles' famed Sunset Strip Thursday night when an angry patron starting shooting into a crowd of 300 people, Reuters reports. Another man was shot in the foot, deputies told Reuters, but no one was killed or seriously inujured. The gunman was quickly wrestled to the ground by a nightclub patron and held down by others until police arrived. Kulick, 49, was treated at a hospital and released and said in a statement, "It was certainly a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, walking in a public street having no knowledge of any altercation in the vicinity."
Part of Roy's Skull Removed
Roy Horn, the Las Vegas animal illusionist who was mauled by one of his tigers during a performance Oct. 3, had to have a quarter of his skull removed in order to reduce pressure, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Lonnie Hammargren, a neurosurgeon and former lieutenant governor of Nevada, told the paper that part of Horn's skull removed had been placed in a pouch in his abdomen to preserve it until the brain swelling receded and it could be put back. Hammargren also said that Horn was paralyzed on the left side of his body after suffering a stroke from the mauling.
Anderson Calls For KFC Boycott
Actress Pamela Anderson has joined the animal activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in a campaign against fast-food chain KFC, Reuters reports, urging consumers to boycott the franchise until it starts treating its chickens better. "If people knew how KFC treats chickens, they'd never eat another drumstick," the Canadian-born former Baywatch beauty wrote in an open letter circulated by the PETA. A spokeswoman for Priszm Brandz, the company who owns the KFC franchise, dismissed claims that the chickens sold in its KFC outlets are mistreated.
Singer Wyclef Jean Hospitalized
Grammy winner Wyclef Jean has been hospitalized for exhaustion and dehydration after becoming ill from food poisoning, a publicist for the singer-songwriter told AP. Jean came down with food poisoning on Tuesday, the day after appearing at The Source Awards in Miami, she said. He was admitted to a hospital in Miami Wednesday, and is expected to be hospitalized through the weekend.
Editor Apologizes for Racist Remarks
Gregg Easterbrook, a senior editor for the New Republic magazine, apologized to the producers of Kill Bill for calling them "Jewish executives" who "worship money above all else" in his column, AP reports. Easterbrook accused Kill Bill and its writer/director Quentin Tarantino for glorifying violence and criticized Miramax's chairman Harvery Weinstein, which released the film, and its parent company, Disney, for "wallowing in gore" for profit. Although he stands by his sentiments, Easterbrook admitted he was guilty of "mangling words" in the article that appeared Monday on the magazine's Web site.
Fan's Foul Ball Catch Inspires Hollywood Movie
Taken from the recent uproar over a Chicago Cubs fan who prematurely caught a foul ball at a key point in game six of the professional baseball teams playoff series against the Florida Marlins, Revolutions Studios is looking to develop a feature based on the incident with Kings of Queens comedian Kevin James. It'll be "about a baseball fan who interferes with a critical play and must deal with the repercussions," a Revolution spokeswoman told Reuters.
U2 Saves Day for Sex Abuse Charity
Irish rock group U2, along with their manager Paul McGuinness, donated $46,360 to the Irish sex abuse charity One in Four, which was facing closure because of a funding crisis, Reuters reports. Charity officials said the donation would keep the support group, which campaigns on behalf of people who were sexually abused as children, operational for the time being. "The members of U2 and their manager have offered to provide to One in Four 40,000 euros ($46,360) to enable this wonderful organization to continue its vital and important work for a further month, while the government gets it together to do the right thing," the group's management said in a statement.