Potiche


Potiche

Judith Godreche is miffed that Catherine Deneuve and Karin Viard are so amused at her mannequin imitation.

(2010) Comedy (Music Box) Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godreche, Jeremie Renier, Evelyne Dandry, Bruno Lochet, Elodie Freget, Gautier About, Jean-Baptiste Shelmerdine, Noam Charlier. Directed by Francois Ozon

Through the ages and across the continents women have had to put up with a second class status in nearly every culture. How far have we come in righting that wrong?

Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) is the heiress to a successful umbrella factory in France. Her husband Robert (Luchini) is in charge of the factory and his autocratic tendencies have led his workers to a strike, egged on by the communist mayor and MP Maurice Babin (Depardieu) with whom Suzanne had a brief and torrid affair shortly after she was married.

She calls in a favor with Babin when angry workers take Robert hostage. He is not grateful in the least when he is released to the bosom of his family – the artistic son Laurent (Renier) who resembles a young Michael York and has been dismissed by his father as a non-entity, and Joelle (Godreche) who beneath her Farrah haircut hides a fear that she and her husband will divorce – and an all-consuming need to win her father’s approval, although again she is dismissed as just a girl.

When Robert suffers a heart attack, Suzanne is forced to take over the factory and resume negotiations with the workers. Not only does she give in to the demands which are remarkably fair, but she actually builds the business, expanding into new markets and updating the look of the umbrellas to add artistic flair and color. However, when Robert returns from his convalescence, he means to have control of his factory back (which is only his because he married the boss’s daughter) and doesn’t care what he does to get it back.

This is a light and frothy comedy, set in 1977 with all the camp and kitsch that it implies. Ozon has had a career that has spanned all sorts of movies, from comedies to suspense movies and dramas. Here, he affects a light, deft touch, basing this on a stage play that was written in that era. While he maintains the ‘70s setting, he has also updated the play somewhat to reference the social and political sensibilities of modern France.

It also doesn’t hurt that he has two of the giants of French cinema in his cast. Deneuve, in her late 60s, is still ridiculously beautiful and elegant. She plays the long-suffering Suzanne as a bit on the timid side to begin, doting on her children, supporting her husband and making a home. As she becomes more confident in herself, it is fun to watch her blossom and come into herself, a lovely butterfly.

Depardieu is an amazing actor who while no longer the lean leading man he was 20 years ago, still impresses. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and while he is somewhat cowed by Suzanne, he nonetheless stands up to her when she breaks his heart.

Viard, one of France’s most popular actresses, takes on a lesser role than she is usually used to but considering whom she’s supporting I imagine it wasn’t hard to convince her to do so – if she didn’t volunteer to begin with. She plays Robert’s put upon secretary who has also been the object of his philandering attention. She’s efficient and competent but like most of the women in the movie, disregarded.

The setting is note-perfect, from the scene where Depardieu and Deneuve do the Hustle at a nightclub to the bright colors and fonts of the graphics in the titles. The comedy is light and light-hearted and while there’s an underlying message of gender equality, it never gets in the way of a good time. Potiche isn’t the kind of movie that is going to be a game-changer; it has opened several film festivals here in the United States which is a bit mystifying, but it is still satisfying entertaining and way more funny than most of the comedies Hollywood will release this year.

REASONS TO GO: Any chance at seeing Deneuve and Depardieu (here in their 8th pairing) is worth taking. Reasonably funny and note-perfect recreation of the 70s.

REASONS TO STAY: Fluffy and disposable at best.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality but nothing overt. Lots of smoking though.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In French, “potiche” is a decorative vase but it is also a slang term for a trophy wife.

HOME OR THEATER: While this will probably get a decent-sized release, chances are you have a better shot at seeing it at home which is just fine.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Holy Wars

Sucker Punch


Sucker Punch

Superheroines don’t necessarily need to look slutty to be effective.

(2011) Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn, Richard Cetone, Gerard Plunkett, Malcolm Scott, Ron Selmour, AC Peterson, Frederique De Raucourt. Directed by Zack Snyder

The imagination is a powerful thing. It can transport us from any situation, no matter how painful, and set us free. We can use it as a tool to help us escape from our pain – or else wallow in it and ignore the means of our own salvation.

Babydoll (Browning) has seen her mother die, her cruel stepfather attempt to rape both her and her sister (De Raucourt) and her sister die in a tragic accident for which she has been blamed. She is committed to a mental institution by said cruel stepfather who stands to inherit a fortune if Babydoll becomes mentally incompetent; a lobotomy would certainly go a long way to achieving that aim, but the doctor who performs these procedures will not be available for five days, so Babydoll gets the use of her brain essentially for five more days.

But is this really a gothic mental institution in the 1950s? Or is it a bordello into which Babydoll has been sold into white slavery, forced to dance for a high rolling clientele? Baby is befriended by Rocket (Malone), a spunky blonde who is also incarcerated there with her sister Sweet Pea (Cornish). Also there are their friends Blondie (Hudgens, a brunette) and Amber (Chung). They are presided over by Vera Gorski (Gugino), a Polish choreographer who might also be a doctor in the asylum. The club is owned by Blue Jones (Isaac) who may also be an orderly in the asylum.

It also turns out that Babydoll’s dances not only entrance her audience – they also transport Babydoll into a parallel world where she meets Wiseman (Glenn), a wrinkled old sage in a Japanese temple who informs her that she needs five items to escape; a map, fire, a knife, a key and a mystery. These can be found in the bordello but in order to retrieve these closely guarded items, Babydoll’s friends will need to grab them while the staff and guests of the bordello are distracted by Babydoll’s dancing. However, time is ticking down, cruel Blue might be onto them and each parallel world is more dangerous and scarier than the next. Can Babydoll and her friends make it out of their prison and into freedom?

First of all, let me just say that Zack Snyder is one of the most imaginative directors working in Hollywood today; he has given us 300, Watchmen and The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, all of which I can recommend without any hesitation whatsoever. I really can’t say the same for this one, however (which is incidentally the first original story he’s made a movie from – all the rest of his films are based on graphic novels, children’s books or are remakes of existing movies). In fact, this might wind up being the biggest disappointment of 2011.

There is so much going for this movie, too – great action sequences, lots of imagination and plenty of eye candy, both of the special effects sort and the female kind as well. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t gel. Much of this can be attributed by the storytelling, one of Snyder’s strong points but lacking here. He is essentially creating three parallel stories and trying to link them together but the linking is done in a clumsy fashion; the movement between the three parallel worlds should be seamless and frankly, it’s jarring the first time it happens, leaving the audience going WTF (which should also be in the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language if LOL is).

For much of the movie, the primarily female cast are mostly in lingerie and stockings, which while a fine idea to my mind also kind of demeans them as action heroes when the script calls upon them to be that way. You’d never have seen the members of The Expendables prancing around in Speedos and socks before going out to kick ass. Then again, would you really want to?

There are some very nice performances, particularly from the always-reliable Gugino as the Polish madame/psychiatrist who is a figure of sympathy despite having made a deal with the devil. Malone also fares very well as Babydoll’s bestie, showing an enormous amount of pluck as well as being sexy and strong. Cornish, who plays her big sister, also does well as the over-protective Sweet Pea who has seen her leadership position usurped by Babydoll.

Browning, however left me a bit flat as Babydoll. She has nice pouty lips and big blue eyes but she never really convinced me as the action hero or the leader of the pack. She’s done fine work in other movies, but this one ain’t gonna be one of her shining career moments.

We rarely get to see female team movies like this and given the propensity for women to bicker and argue among themselves (at least as seen when they are teamed up by gender on reality television shows), I might have liked to see a bit more of the dynamics of an all-female action team. Unfortunately that’s a lost opportunity here.

Most of the men here are either rapists, flunkies or hopelessly clueless with the exception of Scott Glenn’s Yoda-esque Wiseman. Glenn is one of those actors from the 80s and 90s who did extensively good work (who can forget his turn as the sub captain in The Hunt for Red October or as the iconic cowboy hero Emmett in Silverado) but rarely got credit for it. He’s a terrific screen presence who I love seeing on the screen even though he’s pushing 70 now.

I really, really, really wanted to recommend this film and I really, really can’t. The story is too disjointed, the performance of Browning not compelling enough to grab my interest. The special effects, the fantasy sequences and the lingerie all are good enough to command my attention but the sad fact of the matter is that the movie simply doesn’t come together into a cohesive whole and the disappointing box office reflects that. I know Snyder as a director is as capable and imaginative as they come – I just wish he’d let a capable and imaginative writer handle the script.

REASONS TO GO: Incredible special effects and an amazing amount of imagination.

REASONS TO STAY: Storytelling shortcuts ruin the flow of the movie. Some of the performances are less-than-compelling.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of sexuality (as you can see from the picture although no overt sex), some fairly graphic violence, a bit of bad language and some disturbing thematic stuff.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Browning doesn’t have a line of dialogue (despite being the lead character) until nearly twenty minutes into the film.

HOME OR THEATER: The digital effects alone are worth seeing on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: The Queen

Crazy Love


Crazy Love

Even Linda Riss can't believe her eyes.

(Magnolia) Burt Pugach, Linda Riss, Jimmy Breslin, Bob Janoff, Sylvia Hoffman, Rita Kessler, Berry Stainback, Janet Pomerantz. Directed by Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens

Love is an emotion that can overwhelm even the most rational of us. Under its spell, we turn into gibbering, obsessive freaks that lose all sense of proportion and reality. We descend into a kind of baby-talking, goo-goo eyed madness that is considered part of love’s sweet charm. Sometimes, that madness turns savage.

Burt Pugach was a successful attorney in the Bronx (read: ambulance chaser) in 1957 when he met Linda Riss. On the surface, they couldn’t have been more different; he was sophisticated and charming but far from handsome. She was beautiful but naive, easily swayed by the more worldly Burt.

At first she wasn’t interested, but he was persistent. He was co-owner of a ritzy nightclub in Manhattan and he would take her there to meet celebrities of the day; whenever she walked in the door, the orchestra would play “Linda.” He had his own airplane and a pilot’s license and would take her all over the Northeast and beyond. He gave her lavish gifts. His persistence eventually paid off.

There was just one problem – Burt was already married. When Linda found out about it, she was understandably devastated. Burt protested that he had already been in the process of getting a divorce before he met Linda – why, here were the divorce papers to prove it. However, Linda eventually discovered that the papers were forged.

For Linda, that was the last straw. She called it off between her and Burt and moved on. Burt, however, couldn’t let go; he continued to pursue her despite her repeated entreaties to leave her alone. She met a nice man whom she eventually became engaged to. The thought of Linda with any other man but him drove Burt over the edge, leading him to commit an act so vile, so dreadful that it captured the headlines of its time and even by today’s standards is unusually brutal. It would lead the two of them on an odyssey that would continue long past the tragedy of that day in 1959.

I won’t go into what happened precisely and the consequences of the action. Suffice to say that either you have never heard of Burt Pugach in which case I don’t want to take away from the impact of the documentary by telling you some of the more shocking aspects of the movie in advance, or you are aware of the facts of the case in which case I don’t need to reiterate what you already know.

The filmmakers a former publicist (Klores) and an actor (Stevens) who combine talking head interviews with the principals and their acquaintances, as well as incorporating a wealth of archival footage, grainy home movies and newspaper headlines. In all honesty, the documentary portion is in some ways fairly by-the-numbers.

The best part of the documentary is that the filmmakers choose to weave the story in such a way that you get entangled in it and before long you become absolutely enthralled by it. It becomes a cinematic train wreck in a good way – you can’t take your eyes away. Kudos to Klores and Stevens for allowing the story to take center stage.

It’s the story itself that captivates here and every juicy twist and turn that it takes drops your jaw to the floor anew. I know that truth is stranger than fiction, but this is stranger than science fiction. It reminds you once again that people will do incredible things in the name of love and terrible things in the name of obsession.

WHY RENT THIS: This is a remarkable story that is the poster child for the truism that truth is stranger than fiction.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It is very much a New York story and those who find such things uninteresting will probably be put off by this.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language and some frank sexual references, but it is the mature themes of the documentary that make it questionable for younger audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won Best Documentary Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: In addition to 43 minutes of additional interview footage with the principals, there is also a slideshow of Linda’s artwork as well as copies of Burt’s letters from prison to Linda.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Orphan