It’s not just Kevin we need to talk about. There are a lot of bad boys here at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Like Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a 30ish Wall Street in “Shame,”  Steve McQueen’s bleak “Last Tango” for the internet porn age. Unlike Kevin, he doesn’t kill anyone. No, that would be more the style of his 80s predecessor Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s 2000 adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho” (Fassbender at times bears a resemblance to Bale in that movie). In lieu of homicidal violence, though, Brandon does masturbate a lot. And hire hookers and attempt to pick up married women on the subway. But is he happy? Of course not. Shame on you, Brandon.


What drives him to clog his work computer with anal sex web sites or sneak out to the executive lavatory for a quick whack off after a tense meeting? Maybe it has something to do with his younger sister, aspiring chanteuse Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who has a lot more problems besides her unfortunate name and her fragile singing style. Needy and suicidal, she seems to be a nymphomaniac driven by a bottomless pit of dependency, as opposed to compulsive need to avoid intimacy, which seems to fuel  her brother's sex addiction. When she shows up unbidden and unwelcome tand crashes at Brandon’s swank Manhattan condo, the siblings’ don’t exactly get along. Let’s just say there’s a lot of nudity and yelling  and dialing 911 sometimes seems like a good option.

McQueen doesn’t go much below the surface in analyzing the obsessive, doomed conduct of his characters. But with Fassbender’s performance, it might not be unnecessary. In McQueen’s debut feature “Hunger” (2009), Fassbender played IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, who starved himself to death in a hunger strike in 1981. Here, instead of submitting to an extreme denial of appetite, Fassbender’s character is driven to extreme indulgence. The effect, mirrored on his gaunt “Neanderthal” (his word), features, looks much the same in both cases: a tormented fusion of satyr and saint.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an image of anything natural in McQueen’s Manhattan: it’s all glass, asphalt, steel, fern bars, and anomie. The opposite occurs in British director Andrea Arnold’s (“Red Road;” “Fish Tank”) audacious adaptation of Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights,”  where nature rules and which features one of the baddest bad boys of English literature, brooding, hot-blooded Heathcliff.

This is no Merchant Ivory version of the often adapted classic. The Yorkshire countryside sprawls out like a mossy lunar landscape


and the mud-choked, ramshackle homestead of the title, where the Good Samaritan patriarch Earnshaw takes the foundling Heathcliff, looks like a set from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Grim natural beauty abounds, but so does natural cruelty, like the casual slaughter of animals, including cute puppies hung from a fence.

But the brutal setting probably won’t disturb Brontë purists as much as Arnold’s narrative style. Scarcely any of Brontë’s original dialogue survives and the story is told strictly in images, sound, and seamless editing, a dreamlike flow that evokes the subjective passage of time. But most controversial for some is the casting: Arnold’s Heathcliff is black.

When I interviewed Arnold she disagreed that this was such a radical idea.

“I think that people who really know the book realize that it makes sense because if you read the descriptions, he [Heathcliff] was very different from them,” she says. “He was exotic compared to them. They’re from Yorkshire and he’s from another world. I felt it was important for him to be different and for him to be dark skinned because that’s how he is in the book.”

Like Heathcliff, but even less fortunate, the kids in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” the so-called West Memphis 3, were teenagers who didn’t fit in with their working class, Bible belt, redneck community. Damien Echols liked heavy metal music, wore black, and made spooky drawings. Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly were two of his best friends. When three eight-year-old boys were found brutally murdered in their neighborhood in 1993 the cops focused on the three teenaged friends in their investigation and eventually convicted them on the flimsiest evidence. Misskelly and Baldwin got life sentences, and Echols was sentenced to death. Basically, they were found guilty because they were suspected of “witchcraft” and devil worship.


This is the third film that Berlinger and Sinofsky have made on this subject since 1996. The previous two  films had already stirred up a grassroots movement to free the three which has managed several appeals on their behalf, all denied by the Arkansas courts. Last month, however, an arcane legal maneuver allowed the three to plea guilty while maintaining their innocence, and so reduce their sentences to time served — 18 years. They were set free, but not exonerated.


This occurred too late to be included in the film screened for critics at the festival on Monday, but the filmmakers intend to incorporate the startling recent turn of events into a new version. As it stands now, “Paradise Lost 3” rehashes the first two films in light of revelatory DNA findings from a 2007 inquest. Though stirring and fascinating, if rough around the edges, the new film has been eclipsed by the real life phenomenon its predecessors inspired. Nonetheless, like “Moneyball” and “The Ides of March,” only with far more profound consequences, it shows how things really work in a powerful institution. More importantly, it shows how the victims of this institution not only survived, but prevailed.

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