Elle


Michelle takes her solace where she can find it.

Michelle takes her solace where she can find it.

(2016) Thriller (Sony Classics) Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre, Christian Berkel, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, Vimala Pons, Raphaél Lenglet, Arthur Mazet, Lucas Prisor, Hugo Ponzelmann, Stéphane Bak, Hugues Martel, Anne Loiret, Nicolas Beaucaire, David Colombo-Léotard, Loic Legendre, Eric Savin, Olivia Gotanégre. Directed by Paul Verhoeven

 

There are traumatic events in our life that shape us as people – sometimes making us stronger, sometimes making us more vulnerable. If there is something that truly defines us, it is how we react to those kinds of traumas.

As the movie begins, we witness the brutal and savage rape of Michelle (Huppert), the often prickly co-owner of a videogame company in France. When the masked assailant is done, he leaves her to literally pick up the pieces (of broken glass) and wash away (literally) the stains of her ordeal. She seems numb to it all, then goes about life as if nothing had happened – indeed until she mentions that she was raped almost casually at a dinner party, she tells nobody about the event, not even her son (Bloquet) who has a pregnant girlfriend (Isaaz) who is shrewish and almost psychotic.

Michelle begins to suspect that the person who raped her is someone employed by her, so she has one of the few people she trusts quietly hack into her male employees’ home computers to see what they’re up to. In the meantime we discover that Michelle has let her ex-husband Richard (Berling) know that she disapproves of his new choice of wives and her mother (Magre) her choice of boyfriends. As she is being judgmental she is carrying on an extramarital affair with Robert (Berkel), husband of her best friend (Consigny) and the company’s co-owner. She is also attracted to Patrick (Lafitte), the very married new neighbor across the street.

But she is receiving menacing texts apparently from the man who raped her and when he returns for a follow-up visit, she is strangely aroused. Now it has become a full-blown obsession – but who is the man responsible? And as Michelle begins to grow colder to those who work with her and who are her friends and family, inevitably something is going to have to give.

Huppert’s performance has already netted her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and let me tell you right off the bat that she has earned all of that. This is a searing performance that can be hard to watch – Michelle has all sorts of issues and not all of them are pretty – but at the same time one you can’t look away from. Huppert, a French sex symbol for decades has in her 60s become one of the Grand Dames of French cinema and this is perhaps her best performance ever. It is layered almost in ways that make her seem like she has multiple personalities; sometimes vulnerable, sometimes cold as ice, sometimes hot as lava, sometimes aggressive, sometimes bitchy and sometimes tender but always fascinating.

The veteran cast behind her excels particular Consigny (who I think is one of the most underrated actresses in France) and Lafitte whose character is not all he appears to be. Most of the characters here share that quality.

As thrillers go, there are moments here that are absolutely wrenching but this is by no means an “edge of the seat” affair and in many ways this is more of a slow burn than an intense flame. There are some twists as you might expect and as you also might expect they are not what you’d get from a Hollywood thriller which is quite pleasant particularly for veteran cinemaphiles who rarely get surprised with the genre anymore.

The rape sequences spare nothing as those who have followed Verhoeven’s career might expect. Verhoeven has a history of sexual explicitness in his films and the rape scenes here are no different. They are graphic and brutal and those who have survived sexual assaults or are sensitive to them in any other way should think really hard before seeing this as it might prove to be a trigger. Seriously, it is not for the faint of heart and not for those who are thin of skin. Take that warning seriously.

This is definitely Huppert’s show however and the big reason to see it is her. It is a triumphant performance for a woman who has had a distinguished career although here in the States she has not received the recognition she is due. Although she is up against some strong competition, she does have a strong chance at winning the statuette and that can only be justice for a career that deserves more attention that has been received from American audiences.

REASONS TO GO: An intense and riveting performance by Huppert. Several twists and turns that are unexpected and welcome.
REASONS TO STAY: The sexual assault scenes may be too disturbing, particular for survivors of sexual assault.
FAMILY VALUES: There are several graphic sexual assaults, some disturbing sexual scenes, gruesome images, nudity and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was originally to be an American production, but Verhoeven was unable to find a lead actress willing to do the role. Huppert got a hold of the script and contacted the producers expressing her interest and even suggested that Verhoeven direct the film, unaware that he was already attached to it.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 89/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Accused
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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The Story of Us


You mean...Bruce Willis once had hair?!?

You mean…Bruce Willis once had hair?!?

(1999) Romance (Universal) Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tim Matheson, Rob Reiner, Julie Hagerty, Rita Wilson, Ken Lerner, Colleen Rennison, Jake Sandvig, Victor Raider-Wexler, Albert Hague, Jayne Meadows, Tom Poston, Betty White, Red Buttons, Alan Zweibel, Art Evans, Lucy Webb, Paul Reiser, Marci Rosenberg, Bill Kirchenbauer, Jessie Nelson. Directed by Rob Reiner

Hollywood is a town built on ego. The stars, the producers, the directors, the studio execs all have heads so swelled they won’t fit into ordinary cars – that’s why they take limos everywhere. Hell, even the bicycle couriers got ‘tude.

Isn’t it funny, then, that with all that excess of self-worth, nobody will break Hollywood’s critical commandment: Thou Shalt End Happily (unless Thou Art Remaking Shakespeare). Sometimes, that formula gets in the way of a good movie.

The Story of Us chronicles a marriage in its final stages of dissolution, as Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer play a once-happy couple who can hardly be civil to one another for more than a few moments at a time. As their marriage crumbles, they try to figure out how they’re going to break it to their kids, who are away at camp. At the same time, they’re wondering where things went wrong.

Like so many Rob Reiner films (When Harry Met Sally most notably), both characters are likable enough to keep us interested, but flawed enough to be just like the people who surround us in Real Life. Although the focus here is on Willis, Pfeiffer’s character seemed more sympathetic to me. Thrust into the role of disciplinarian, pragmatist and organizer, Pfeiffer hates what she’s become (i.e. her own mother), but feels powerless to escape her situation. She takes out her rage on her husband, whom she blames for not lifting her burdens, or at least sharing them.

For his part he is bewildered by her behavior and is unable to sympathize, yearning for the happy-go-lucky woman he married. Neither one is able to see the other’s viewpoint, and therein lies their problem.

Willis followed one of his all-time career performance in The Sixth Sense with an outstanding effort here, his best romantic comedy work since his Moonlighting days. While Academy members have never really had Willis on their dance card, one wonders if they tended to view him as little more than Mr. Demi Moore, a label which hounded him when he was unable to match the success of the Die Hard film series throughout the ’90s. Then again, he’s generally played pretty much the same character with astonishing regularity with occasional diversions like The Jackal.

Viewers are bound to notice Rita Wilson, however. As Pfeiffer’s best friend (and wife to Willis’ best friend) she positively dominates the screen every time she’s on it. She is, as Da Queen put it, just like every woman’s best friend in real life. That is to say, brassy, catty, vulgar and supportive. It is no accident that most women who view the film howl at Wilson’s jokes while the men tend to squirm and scratched their receding hairlines perplexedly.

That Pfeiffer and Willis were both dealing with the breakup of their real-life relationships while The Story Of Us was filming undoubtedly gave both actors an additional wellspring of emotion from which to draw. A profound scene near the end of the movie when Willis at last sees himself through his wife’s eyes couldn’t help but get one wondering if he was thinking of Demi at that moment.

My biggest gripe with this movie is the denouement, which is forced and happens in such an unbelievable and predictable manner that it leaves you spitting out “Hollywood!” in a scornful tone at your empty popcorn bowl as you turn off your screen. We spend two hours exploring why the marriage is breaking up, but we never really understand what puts it back together again.

Pfeiffer and Willis are appealing, but it’s the realism of their characters that make this movie satisfying, until it’s shattered in the final reel. I still recommend it strongly, based on the performances and the depiction of a relationship that is not unlike those of friends and family. Not a bad date movie for a couple going through a bad patch.

WHY RENT THIS: Good chemistry between Willis and Pfeiffer. Extraordinary performance by Wilson. Realistic characters and situation.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE. Oh that Hollywood ending! Gaah!

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of bad language and some sexy stuff.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The last full-length feature film for Red Buttons and Albert Hague.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: A featurette on the locations the film was shot at.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $58.9M on a $50M production budget.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jobs

Frozen (2010)


Frozen

Making this movie sucks!!!

(2010) Horror (Anchor Bay) Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, Ed Ackerman, Rileah Vanderbilt, Kane Hodder, Adam Johnson, Chris York, Peder Mulhuse, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Wil Barratt, Dee Snider, Cody Blue Snider. Directed by Adam Green

It’s a nightmare we’d all prefer not to have – the no-win situation, in which nearly every option ends up in a particularly brutal or gruesome demise. What do we do in a situation like that? Wait patiently for death to take us? Or go down fighting and perhaps putting ourselves out of our own misery?

Dan (Zegers) and Lynch (Ashmore) are two buddies who have gone on an annual ski trip as long as they could remember. The dynamic is a little different this time out; Dan’s new girlfriend Parker (Bell) is along for the ride.

There is some tension between Parker and Lynch. While the latter has known Dan much longer, the former might just be “the one.” They don’t speak each other’s language and both of them are miserable; Lynch wants to enjoy the more “A” personality types of slopes which they can’t do because of Parker’s inexperience on a snowboard; Parker simply doesn’t want to be there at all.

Browbeaten by Lynch into one last run, they bribe a chairlift operator to allow them on one last run. A series of small errors snowballs (‘scuse the pun) into a really nasty situation when the resort crew shut down the lift and turn off the lights on the resort, unaware that there are three people stranded on the chairlift four stories above the mountain. You see, the people working at the resort are eager to get home with a bad storm on its way in.

At first the three young people are understandably angry and pissy about the situation, but those emotions turn to fear when they realize that there is nobody to rescue them and as bad as the frostbite and exposure is, there is something much worse below and nobody will be coming for them for at least five days.

Director Adam Green previously helmed the mighty satisfying slasher flick Hatchet and he does a pretty fine job here. From the moment when the ski lift stops, you’re on the edge of your seat. You would think that a movie about three people stuck on a chair lift would be kind of talky and to an extent it is, but the conversation is realistic and interesting – the characters depicted here are as real as people that you encounter every day for the most part.

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from a “stupid people doing stupid things” mentality. The chain of coincidences that strands the three mostly stems from the resort crew not following what I would expect to be standard safety procedures at any ski resort (i.e. making sure the lift chairs are all clear before shutting down the system) and yes, the three people sitting in that chair are prone to being stupid as well.

That said, the chemistry between Ashmore and Zegers is genuine and covers all the bases from “A” to “Z.” They bicker like good friends do and speak in shorthand like good friends do. These are guys that you’ve had a drink with at the local bar from time to time; they’re also the guys who have marathon PlayStation sessions and watch zombie movies while stoned. You know the sorts – the bachelors living in the godawful-messy apartments in nice complexes.

There are some disturbing images, particularly of people getting injured by falls or frostbite, as well as some death scenes you might not want the kids to see. Filmed on location in Utah, the actors were left on an actual ski lift 50 feet above the ground in the dead of night with temperatures hovering right around single digits. The expressions of cold you see on their faces are genuine from that standpoint.

I can’t really say this is a game-changer in terms of horror movies, but it is nonetheless well-crafted, solidly acted and expertly executed. I liked the concept a lot and I like the way Green realized it, but there is an awful lot of chatter and not just from the cold.

WHY RENT THIS: The tension level is ratcheted up to 11. Some pretty gruesome death scenes. Genuine chemistry between the leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Stupid people acting stupidly syndrome. Necessarily talky, but talky nonetheless.

FAMILY VALUES: There are several disturbing images, plenty of foul language, and a little bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Every character in the film is named for a close friend of director Adam Green, who also cameos as a disgruntled patron on the chairlift.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the grueling conditions of making the movie on location; there’s also an Easter egg about a suicide on the same spot where the movie was eventually filmed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.2M on an unreported production budget; the movie might have broken even, but probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Swing Vote

Wendy and Lucy


Wendy and Lucy

Lucy patiently awaits the return of Wendy.

 

(Oscilloscope) Michelle Williams, Will Patton, Larry Fessenden, Will Oldham, Walter Dalton, John Robinson, Marilyn Hickey, John Breen. Directed by Kelly Reichardt 

The world is not always an easy place to live in, but it’s particularly hard on those who have nothing. Sometimes even making a move from one place to another to find work can be an undertaking requiring the bravery of a soldier running into battle. 

Wendy (Williams) is down on her luck, having dwindling funds and no job. She is driving from Indiana to Alaska to (hopefully) find work in a cannery, although nothing is certain. She is alone save for her only friend in the world, Lucy (a golden retriever) whom she hangs onto like a life raft. The only love Wendy experiences in life comes from Lucy. 

Unfortunately, as often happens to those who can least afford it, disaster sets in. Her car breaks down in Portland, Oregon. Unnerved, she goes to a grocery store to get some dog food for Lucy, and winds up being arrested for shoplifting. By the time the mess is sorted out, Lucy is gone. The rest of the movie is taken up by Wendy’s search for her only friend in a place she doesn’t know. 

The plot is deceptively simple but undeniably effective. Most of us have, at one time or another, lived on the ragged edge, one paycheck away from utter disaster. We can all relate to having nothing, or being left with nobody. Director Reichardt brings a sense of realism to the movie that is palpable; there is little background music and nothing forced about the plot. 

There are a number of background characters who flit in and out, most notably Dalton as a security guard who is the only oasis of human kindness in the movie. Most of the other characters in the movie treat Wendy with indifference or contempt, which is how the homeless are generally regarded by most of us, as if they chose homelessness over a life of productivity. While some may have, every last one of them has feelings just like the rest of us and this film reminds us of that. 

Williams does a courageous job as Wendy, her face expressing so much of the internal dialogue, reflecting Wendy’s hope, terror and concern when need be. She has to carry the movie to a real extent and she does so with a good deal of dignity. This isn’t a glamorous role – far from it – but it’s a role that can make directors and producers sit up and take notice and hopefully Williams will get a few juicy roles out of this. 

This is the first movie I’ve seen by Reichardt although she’s done several, and I must say she’s quite a talent. She keeps the tone low (perhaps too low for those who prefer their movies more challenging) and quiet; this isn’t a movie that gets up in your face but rather, it sticks with you. She co-wrote the script along with original short story author Jonathan Raymond (the two also collaborated on Old Joy) and while this isn’t a strident call to arms, the spirit of Tom Joad is alive and well and living in this movie. That is quite the legacy as far as I’m concerned. 

WHY RENT THIS: A decent indie film about poverty and the bonds of love that are unshakable. Williams gives an impressive performance. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s gut-wrenching at times. The overall tone is a bit slow. 

FAMILY VALUES: The language can be a bit rough, and the subject matter is a little on the mature side; even though there’s a dog involved, this is probably more for the more mature members of the family than the kids. 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to get into character, Williams did not bathe for the two weeks of shooting, wore no make-up and did not shave her legs or cut her fingernails. After shooting was completed, her friend actress Busy Philipps treated her to a manicure and pedicure. 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Reichardt also acts as a visiting professor of film and electronic arts at Bard College; she has thoughtfully included five short films by four of her colleagues made from 1979 through 2004. 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1M on an unreported production budget; the movie probably broke even or might have made a slight profit. 

FINAL RATING: 6/10 

TOMORROW: Zoom

Killers


Killers

Katherine Heigl prays for a better movie next time after checking out how much she made on this one.

(Lionsgate)  Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Mull, Katheryn Winnick, Kevin Sussman, Alex Borstein, Lisa Ann Walter, Rob Riggle, Casey Wilson, Usher Raymond, Letoya Luckett. Directed by Robert Luketic

How well do you really know your mate? You can take at face value what they tell you about their past, but how truthful are they really being? More importantly, what could they be leaving out?

Jen Kornfeldt (Heigl) has just been dumped by her boyfriend. They had been planning a vacation to Nice on the French Riviera but she winds up going with her parents instead – her dad (Selleck) a dour, straight-laced former airline pilot and her mom (O’Hara), a borderline alcoholic whose free spirit has been drowned in an endless ocean of cocktails.

In Nice she meets Spencer Aimes (Kutcher), a handsome, ripped and nice young man who yearns to settle down with the right girl and put down some roots. He’s a consultant working for a company that has him travelling all over the world, and he’s ready to get off the merry-go-round. At first, Jen is reluctant to confess her status as recently dumped and vacationing with her parents but eventually she comes clean, particularly after she’s had a lot more to drink than she normally does, confiding in Spencer her dating past as a “nerd magnet.”

Fast-forward three years. The two are happily married and living in a quiet Atlanta suburb with block parties, nosy neighbors and the sound of riding mowers. Jen is a consultant for a computer software company while Spencer has his own construction company. Life is pretty idyllic for the two, with Jen’s parents a mere five minutes away. Okay, maybe not so idyllic.

It’s Spencer’s birthday and he really doesn’t want to make a big deal of it. In fact, he seems pretty moody lately and Jen’s at a loss to explain why. She makes arrangements to throw a big birthday party for him, with her dad in charge of driving Spencer to the house. The party goes pretty well, although again Spencer seems distant. Jen’s friends attribute it to the Three Year Snooze, the point in a marriage when routine begins to dominate. Jen wants to question Spencer further but she has to go out of town to deliver a presentation on her company’s new software at a San Francisco computing conference.

She returns home and is horrified to discover her husband and his best friend Henry (Riggle) locked in mortal combat. After Spencer subdues Henry and they get him tied up, she is understandably shocked and demands an explanation.

It turns out that Spencer’s past is catching up with him. The “company” he used to work for is in fact the CIA and he was a contract assassin for them. Having left the agency to be with her, he has discovered that nobody just “leaves” the company. After questioning Henry, they discover that there is a $20 million bounty on Spencer’s head and there is more than one assassin planted among their neighbors and friends just waiting to collect it.

From that point on they are dodging bullets and homicidal killers, all the while trying to get Jen’s pregnancy test done. When they try to question Spencer’s former boss (Mull), they find him as dead as a doornail – two shots to the heart and one to the head, very old school. If Spencer’s boss didn’t let loose the hounds, who did? Jen is angry and bitter, feeling that Spencer had lied to her all this time about his past. In the meantime, people they thought were friends and neighbors are trying to kill them. If they survive the attempts on Spencer’s life, will their marriage survive?

Heigl has been repeatedly cast in romantic comedies of late, few of which match her breakout role in Knocked Up. Here they even add the pregnancy card to try and maybe recapture that magic but quite frankly this isn’t the right role for Heigl. While she isn’t really called upon to be the action hero here, she is probably more comfortable in straight comedic roles.

Her chemistry with Kutcher isn’t what you’d call scintillating. At times you wonder what they saw in each other to begin with. The relationship is so central to the movie that if it isn’t believable, the whole movie falls apart. It’s not quite unbelievable but it’s close.

The action sequences are a bit rote which doesn’t help matters. This is primarily a comedy with the action secondary, but even so I would have liked a bit more edge to the action. That’s one of the things that made the similarly-themed Mr. and Mrs. Smith so delightful. Here there’s nothing surprising so you tend to stifle a yawn.

What does work in the movie is Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara. Selleck has fun with his image as a tough guy and brings a little DeNiro into the mix. The combination works very nicely. O’Hara is an underrated comedienne and steals nearly every scene she’s in. It’s nice to see her do what she does best – create a character that’s funny and believable at the same time.

Killers isn’t really a bad movie, it’s just not a very good one. It’s diverting and has its own charm but certainly it isn’t a movie you should feel the need to run right out and see. It has its moments and if you are fans of either Kutcher or Heigl you’ll probably see it anyway, but otherwise this is one you can safely wait for its appearance on home video or cable.

REASONS TO GO: Kutcher and Heigl are amusing. Selleck and O’Hara just about steal the movie.

REASONS TO STAY: Not a lot of chemistry between the two leads. The action sequences don’t really compete with other summer movies out there.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some comic violence as well as a good deal of sexual innuendo, and a bit of bad language. It’s suitable for teens, but probably not for the really young kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While filming a fight scene, Kutcher accidentally knocked out one of the stunt men with a punch to the head.

HOME OR THEATER: While this is clearly an action movie, it doesn’t have the kind of big action requiring a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Lucky Ones