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Audience reaction to 'I Spit on Your Grave' remake just as scary
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic

Rape victim Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) tub-thumps revenge against an attacker in the upcoming remake of the excoriated 1978 exploitation classic "I Spit on Your Grave."


James Franco, right, stars as Allen Ginsberg, and Aaron Tveit stars as his companion Peter Orlovsky in "Howl."


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Published: 10/1/2010 12:02 AM

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Steven Monroe's remake of the brutal 1978 rape-and-revenge exploitation classic "I Spit on Your Grave" opens Oct. 8.

I saw it last week at Chicago's Music Box Theatre. The rape scenes had been cut back from the original version, but the violent revenge quotient went through the roof.

Mostly, I was floored by how easily a sophisticated audience could be moved into primal revenge mode. A petite young woman in front of me applauded with glee every time star Sarah Butler tortured and killed one of her rapists. I was astonished at how easily viewers launched into cheers and applause when Butler dispatched her attackers in ways that would have made the creators of "Saw" envious.

So I got Monroe on the telephone to ask him if I should be afraid of what his movie brings out in viewers.

"We need to be pushed. We need to be disturbed," Monroe told me. "Horrible, horrible, horrible things happen every single day to this world of people. I don't think movies should be censored from portraying these things. I'm not talking just about rape, but anything that could happen to anybody.

"Anybody that this happens to, anybody who is a mother, a daughter, or a father, or a husband or a brother or a sister to somebody who this happens to, is going to go to this place in their mind. 'I would do that to this person.' So, I think it's a big emotional release for these people after they've sat through what these guys do to her."

If you see "I Spit," be prepared to be afraid of what this movie brings out in audiences. Be very prepared.

Reverend Dann?

I've always thought that Harold Ramis' comic fantasy "Groundhog Day" (shot in Woodstock) was one of the best pro-God movies ever made.

So, I have turned it into a sermon called "The Gospel, According to Groundhog Day." I'll be delivering it at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Our Redeemers United Methodist Church, 1600 W. Schaumburg Road (at Springinsguth Road), Schaumburg. You're invited.

No, I'm not an ordained minister. I don't even play one on TV. Since Our Redeemer's beloved pastor, Bill Shaw, died of a stroke in July, parishioners have pitched in to help interim pastor Ron Graham deliver the Sunday message. Call (847) 884-6116 or go to Free admission, but no popcorn.

The smell of what?

Join me and James Bond novelist/film historian Raymond Benson as Dann & Raymond's Movie Club presents "We Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning: The Great War Movies." We'll show clips from such films as "Wings," "Platoon," "Apocalypse Now," "Das Boot," "Patton," "All Quiet on the Western Front" and many others. Free admission. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Schaumburg Township District Library, 130 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg. Call (847) 985-4000 or go to for details.

Chicago film fest is on

The 46th annual Chicago International Film Festival revs up Thursday with its traditional gala and its opening night movie, "Stone," John Curran's drama about a convict (Edward Norton) whose sexy wife (Milla Jovovich) tries to convince a middle-aged parole officer (Robert De Niro) to let her man go.

Also in the festival: Danny Boyle's survival drama "127 Hours," a Black Perspectives tribute to Forest Whitaker, the U.S./Israel documentary "Circus Kids" and lots productions from Illinois filmmakers.

Go to or call (312) 332-FILM.

Reel Life review: 'Howl'

I understand why Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman included Eric Drooker's surrealistic animation in "Howl," their faithful docudrama on poet Allen Ginsberg.

Having James Franco, as Ginsberg, simply read his four-part landmark poem "Howl" would be a visual crash-and-burn. But using animation to express Ginsberg's words doesn't work, either.

Reading poetry is about sound and metaphor, symbolism and imagination, all of which become undermined by distracting visual interpretations on the screen, regardless of how imaginative they may be.

"Howl" also suffers from a structure in which three different narratives constantly interrupt each other and compete for our attention.

One takes place in 1955 when 29-year-old unpublished Ginsberg reads his breakthrough poem "Howl" publicly for the first time.

In 1957, Ginsberg sits in chairs and lies on a couch, talking about the Beat Generation and his friendship with Jack Kerouac.

Lastly, "Howl" uses legal transcripts to re-enact the obscenity trial in San Francisco where the sexually explicit poem and free speech was put on trial.

Given its devotion to the facts, "Howl" might be more rewarding viewing for ardent Ginsberg followers and literature classes.

Franco's cool-cat on-screen persona (and off-screen academic pursuits) make him an ideal Ginsberg conduit. Also stellar is Jeff Daniels as a verbose, academic blowhard.

"Howl" opens today at the Music Box in Chicago. Not rated by the MPAA; not suitable for children. 90 minutes. ★ ★ ½

Reel Life review: 'Waiting for Superman'

Oscar-winning documentary maker Davis Guggenheim's report card gives American public education and the nation's teachers a failing grade, but tempers that with a diplomatic "must improve."

Using graphics, music and interviews with five families for emotional resonance, "Waiting for 'Superman'" recycles Bob Bowdon's rabidly anti-teachers union doc "The Cartel" and Madeleine Sackler's charter schools doc "The Lottery," but approaches the politically volatile subject with a strong sense of optimism and fair play.

Guggenheim, who won the Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth," exposes systemic blight not only by taking on unions for protecting incompetent teachers, but by revealing the wasteful way schools pass their worst teachers off on each other.

The five students followed by Guggenheim obviously are there to put a human face on the desire to get kids into the best schools possible. It works, even though it feels just a little too Oprah-ized.

"Waiting for 'Superman'" opens today at the Century Centre in Chicago. Rated PG. 102 minutes. ★★★ ½

Reel Life review: 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger'

Woody Allen's fourth romantic comedy from across the pond is an emotionally resistible, almost lackluster ensemble effort salvaged by a super cast and Vilmos Zsigmond's attractively lighted scenes.

Allen sets up "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" with a Shakespearean quote about sound and fury signifying nothing, but Puck's observation "What fools these mortals be" would work just as well.

Aging Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) dumps his wife Helena (Gemma Jones) to hook up with a prostitute/actress (Lucy Punch). Helena seeks solace from a con artist fortuneteller (Pauline Collins) approved by Helena's daughter (Naomi Watts), married to a frustrated novelist (Josh Brolin) whose infatuation with an Indian woman next door (Freida Pinto) causes his wife to pursue the attentions of her married boss (Antonio Banderas).

The grass is greener theme is relentlessly played out with little surprise and emotional urgency. It doesn't help that Allen employs a droning and annoying disembodied voice-over narrator to perform all the heavy dramatic lifting.

"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" opens today at the Century Centre in Chicago, the Evanston CineArts 6 and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated R for language. 98 minutes. ★ ★

Reel Life review: 'A Film Unfinished'

This is a tough movie to subject to a conventional analysis and a star rating, simply because its appeal is mostly academic and historic.

In May of 1942, the Nazis shot footage of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, obviously intending to use it as part of a bigger propaganda movie that was never made. We not only see the unedited footage of 500,000 Jews attempting to survive in a tiny 3-square-mile ghetto, the filmmakers uncover "takes" where the subjects were obviously directed to act "normal" on screen, proving that scenes once thought to be real were actually staged.

Five unnamed ghetto survivors are shown watching the footage, undoubtedly to provide some emotional and immediate resonance. One woman seems almost upset as she utters, "What if I see someone I know?"

Directed by Yael Hersonski, "A Film Unfinished" approaches its subject as a detective story, running down clues in ghetto diaries and legal papers to get a handle on the meaning and ultimate purpose of the footage.

For audiences seeking regular movie entertainment, this one doesn't fit the bill. But as archival material for scholars, it's a find.

"A Film Unfinished" opens today at the River East 21 in Chicago and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Not rated by the MPAA. 89 minutes.★ ★ ★