The Woman in the Fifth (La femme du Vème)


Ethan Hawke admirably keeps his eyes up.

Ethan Hawke admirably keeps his eyes up.

(2011) Drama (ATO) Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig, Samir Guesmi, Delphine Chuillot, Julie Papillon, Geoffrey Carey, Mamadou Minte, Mohamed Aroussi, Jean-Louis Cassarino, Judith Bennett, Marcela Iacub, Wilfred Benaiche, Pierre Marcoux, Rosine Favey, Anne Benoit, Gregory Gadebois, Donel Jacksman, Laurent Levy, Doug Rand, Tercelin Kirtley. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

Offshoring

The things that inspire us sometimes conflict with our baser natures. Sometimes they come from that aspect of our personalities. Regardless of our best intentions, that conflict can save us – or destroy us.

Tom Ricks (Hawke) was a young Turk in literature once upon a time. Having written a very well received book, he seemed poised to become a big success – but that was long ago and far away. So too was his wife Nathalie (Chuillot) and daughter Chloe (Papillon) who in the case of the former had divorced her husband and in the case of the latter moved with her mommy back to mom’s native Paris. Tom has followed them to the City of Lights after a brief incarceration and hopes to reconcile.

However Tom imagined that first meeting would go, it went badly with the police being called and Tom having to flee. Exhausted and with nowhere to stay, he boards a bus and falls asleep whereupon things go from bad to worse – all of Tom’s belongings and documents are stolen. Now he’s really in a pickle.

Near the bus terminus he finds a bar where he purchases a cup of coffee for the last remaining coins he has in his pocket. The barmaid, Ania (Kulig) takes pity on his plight and points him to the bar owner (Guesmi) who has a crummy apartment Tom can use and a job that Tom can do – a kind of a night watchman who sits in a cubicle with closed circuit television monitors and when people come to a door and give the right password, he buzzes them in. Tom has no idea what goes on behind the door and doesn’t much care; he’s busy writing his next novel but before that, writing long letters to Chloe.

He’s also carrying on with the barmaid who it turns out is the girlfriend of a local mobster which is liable to make things go from worse to desperate. Still, things are actually  looking up; Tom is recognized while browsing through a bookstore and invited to an event for authors. While there he meets Margit (Scott Thomas), a beautiful and elegant woman with an interest in the arts. She and he end up getting intimate and begin an affair but with strict (and strange) guidelines;  he must meet her only at her apartment in the 5th arrondissement at 5pm sharp on two specific days of the week. He is not to ask her any questions about what she does for a living or her past. All she’ll tell him is that she’s a widow but Tom seems fine with the rules; after all, she’s beautiful and willing.

Tom’s unsavory neighbor finds out about Tom and the barmaid and threatens to tell her boyfriend. Tom is devastated but as luck would have it, the neighbor ends up murdered. As Tom’s luck would have it, he comes under suspicion of committing the crime. Tom though has an alibi – he was with Margit at the time. However, when it turns out that Margit isn’t what she appears to be and his trysts with her aren’t what they seemed either, Tom’s problems have gone from desperate to impossible.

Pawlikowski’s next film (Ida) would go on to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film and you can see a few of the markers that connect that film with this one. For one thing, you don’t always know what the characters are thinking and they sometimes do things that are out of character for them but perfectly logical to us as the audience. Like that film, The Woman in the Fifth is filmed with an eye towards the austere; the side of Paris the tourists don’t see. The hallway lit by the pallid fluorescent lamp that makes skin tones look green, the squalor of Tom’s apartment have a severe tone. Even Margit’s lovely apartment in the Fifth has a sterile quality to it.

Hawke, who also was involved in the Oscar festivities this year for Boyhood, has been on a roll for awhile. He seems incapable of choosing an uninteresting project or delivering a subpar performace at this stage of his career. He carries the movie as a man who has been kicked around by life, many of the kicks delivered by his own foot to his own behind. Tom is unpredictable, capable of violence and yet he is almost obsessively devoted to his daughter. At first his situation seems to be that he is being punished by a vindictive bitch of a wife; as the film goes on, we are less sure that she isn’t absolutely right in trying to keep Chloe’s father away from her.

Scott Thomas is a marvelous actress who has found a lucrative career in France, rarely doing films outside her borders. The French have known, unlike Hollywood, the allure of the “older women” and write parts for actresses in their forties and beyond that are both sexy and intelligent. Hollywood tends to want to put the spotlight on actresses who are younger and with few exceptions, rarely creates roles for women of that age group that have any sort of sexuality, preferring to restrict them to mommy roles or at a certain point, grandmommy roles. It’s as if that women once they turn 40 are expected by Americans to set aside everything but their nurturing side. I suppose that is part of our Puritan heritage, but fortunately the French see things differently and actresses like Scott Thomas are regularly employed there.

As the movie goes on, there are twists to the plot that come from nowhere and are unexpected to say the least. Not wanting to give anything away, I won’t say more than that but those twists are a bit complicated and those who aren’t patient with such things may find this film to be rather more frustrating than they might find comfortable. From my point of view, these types of things are challenging; you can believe what you choose to believe in terms of what you think is going on but I guarantee you, you won’t be right – nor will you be wrong. It really is up to your interpretation.

This is truly an international film, with a Polish director who is based in England but makes a film set in France (backed by French, English and Polish producers) and based on a novel by an Irish-American author. In that sense, there is an Eastern European austerity and a French sensuality, along with an American type of thriller merged with an English style suspense. Something for everyone.

WHY RENT THIS: Hawke is always interesting. Scott Thomas is right in her wheelhouse here.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May get too convoluted for some. Can be frustrating.
FAMILY VALUES: Sexuality (and plenty of it), some violence and foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Pawlikowski is a noted Polish director, this was filmed in France and mostly financed by French sources (along with British and Polish as well).
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $113,800 on an unknown  production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (Stream/DVD rental), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (not available), Target Ticket (not available)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Ghost Writer
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Offshoring continues!

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Horrible Bosses


Horrible Bosses

Raise the roof, 1999!

(2011) Comedy (New Line) Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Anniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland, Julie Bowen, Ioan Gruffudd, Isaiah Mustafa, Ron White, Bob Newhart, Lindsay Sloane, Celia Finklestein. Directed by Seth Gordon

Everyone who spends any amount of time in the workplace sooner or later is going to have it happen to them. The horrible boss – we all have horror stories about one or two. Some are so horrible we often fantasize about pushing them in front of a train. Of course, we would never do such a thing for real…would we?

Of course, most of us never have bosses like these. Nick Hendricks (Bateman) however, does. He is working hard for a promotion that has been dangled out in front of him by Dave Harken (Spacey), a mean, cruel, vindictive and manipulative man who jerks the rug out from under Nick’s feet after months of “motivating” him with the promotion.

So does Dale Arbus (Day), a dental assistant to Dr. Julia Harris (Anniston), a dentist with a libido the size of Texas. She harasses Dale, who’s engaged to the beautiful Stacy (Sloane) and wants no part of the predatory advances of Dr. Harris. Her obsession with him is threatening his future with Stacy.

Kurt Buckman (Sudeikis) has a great boss. Jack Pellit (Sutherland) is easy-going and is well-liked by his employees, especially Kurt who is like a son to him. His actual son, Bobby (Farrell), is a train wreck. A drug addict, a womanizer, and a selfish greedy bastard, when he takes over the company after a tragic set of circumstances, Kurt suddenly knows what it’s like to have a horrible boss.

All three of these guys are friends going back to high school. All three of them commiserate with each other at a local watering hole. All three of them agree that their lives would be better if their bosses were dead. And all three of them have seen Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.

So has Mofo (that’s not his name, but his name wouldn’t exactly be marquee material) Jones (Foxx) who did ten years in the slam, and he figures out what these men have in mind. He agrees to become their “murder consultant” for a fee. The idea is for all of them need to kill each other’s boss – that way they can’t be pinned with a motive to kill a perfect stranger. Of course these types of ideas always work better in the movies…

First off, this is one of the funniest movies of the summer. It is much in the same vein from an overall standpoint (not so much in plot) as Bad Teacher and The Hangover Part II. It’s a raunchy, push-the-envelope kind of comedy that takes territory previously plumbed by Office Space – in some ways not as well and in others better – and pushes the boundaries a little bit further.

It helps having a stellar cast like this one. Bateman has risen rapidly through the ranks and become one of the busiest actors in Hollywood at the moment. He is likable and somewhat everyman-ish. He has a bit more of an edge here than he usually does but that’s understandable given the movie. Sudeikis has many of the same qualities, although he’s a bit more acerbic than Bateman. He does a pretty good job here, enough so that he might well move up a notch on the Hollywood ladder.

Day is best known for his work on the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I found him a little bit whiny here, which got on my nerves after awhile but I can see how he might be the breakout star from this movie, if there is one. His moment with Bateman in what will be forever known as the “cocaine scene” (the one where the three of them reconnoiter Bobby’s apartment and discover a cache of cocaine which Dale promptly drops on the floor. Day becomes, shall we say, infected. It’s one of the best moments in the film.

The bosses are great too. The actors playing them are all stars in their own right and they have fun with the outrageous parts. Anniston turns her image on its ear, playing a nymphomaniac of a boss. We see a side of Anniston that is far sexier than we’re used to (not that she can’t play sexy – she has and certainly does so here) and quite frankly, it’s pretty welcome. I like seeing her go out of her comfort zone a little.

Farrell can chew scenery with the best of them. His performance as Bullseye in Daredevil was one of the best things about that movie, and with his combover he is scarcely recognizable physically and like Anniston, you sense he’s having a good time with this. Spacey has played tyrannical bosses before (see Swimming With Sharks) and in some ways this is more or less a repeat of that performance, only on steroids.

Sutherland and Newhart, two veterans, only get a scene apiece, but make the most of their time. I would have liked to have seen more of them. Foxx only gets three scenes but he makes the most of his cameo as well. Otherwise nearly all the action revolves around the bosses and their employees so much of the onus is on their shoulders.

Fortunately they carry the movie well. Part of what makes this movie work is the casting. However, the other thing that makes the movie work is the writing. There are plenty of funny jokes, some great comic bits and the actors are given room not only to improvise but to take their characters as far as they can.

It doesn’t work well everywhere and some of the bits do fall flat. It isn’t Office Space which was a much better commentary on the modern workplace, but this is more of a comedy about cubicle cowboys pushed to their limits. It’s crude fun, and yes those who like their humor a little more gentle might be put off by this, but it is funny nonetheless. Sure, those who are unemployed might kill for any sort of boss, but those who are in need of a laugh should make a beeline for this one.

REASONS TO GO: At its best the movie is extremely funny, one of the funniest of the summer. The bosses sink their teeth into their roles.

REASONS TO STAY: A few of the bits don’t work as well. Day’s voice got annoyingly whiny after awhile.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of crude, sexual content and almost non-stop foul language. There is also a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anniston dyed her hair a darker brown to differentiate her character from the lighter roles she usually plays.

HOME OR THEATER: This works just as well on the home screen as it does in the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Tony Manero


Tony Manero

Tony Manero or Al Pacino?

(Lorber) Alfredo Castro, Paolo Lattus, Hector Morales, Amparo Noguera, Elsa Poblete. Directed by Pablo Larrain

We tend to take our freedoms for granted. In other cultures, those freedoms are non-existent; even a suggestion of non-conformity can lead to arrest or worse. In Chile under the dictator Agustin Pinochet the rule was by an iron fist without the benefit of a velvet glove.

Raul Peralta (Castro) lives in a working class neighborhood in Santiago and he dreams of fame and fortune. He is fascinated by Saturday Night Fever, then a current hit movie, and identifies with the central character, Tony Manero who in turn dreams that his skills as a dancer will elevate him from his working class neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Raul shows up for a television show that awards prizes to the best impersonator, but on the wrong day. He stands in line with a group of hangdog Chuck Norris wannabes, only to be told that the Tony Manero show is the following week.

Despondent, he goes to a Santiago cinema to lose himself in the lights and the glamour of Saturday Night Fever yet again. At home, he sees an old lady carrying her groceries home set upon by a group of young hoodlums. He helps her pick up her groceries and escorts her back to her own apartment where he suddenly and viciously beats her to death.

Raul, his girlfriend Cony (Noguera), his friend Goyo (Morales) and Cony’s young daughter Pauli (Lattus) make up a troupe that aspire to perform in the rundown nightclub run by Wilma (Poblete) who is also Raul’s landlady. Raul is obviously the alpha male in this ragtag troupe; he sees himself as a virile, attractive and masculine. In reality, he is impotent, unable to perform either with Cony or, in a riveting but strange scene, with Pauli. His focus is on his fantasy; he goes so far as to replace the dance floor at the bar with a glass brick one along the lines of the one seen in the movie.

The group is already starting to implode as petty jealousies and ideological differences lead to one of the group members informing on the others. Raul leaves them to fend for themselves. Dodging police patrols, he finally makes it to the competition. Who will be the winner?

Our glimpses into Pinochet’s Chile have been very rare, and Larrain gives us a good look without it being overwhelming. He prefers to leave Pinochet in the background, instead concentrating on the story set there and that’s a wise move. Larrain has said that the movie is an allegory for life under Pinochet in Chile and to a certain extent, it is.

What I find fascinating is the buy-in to the American fantasies that have been imported into Chile. The people of Santiago find escape in any way they can; their lives are so repressive that they find the need to take on other lives, other personalities in order to get past the feelings of helplessness they must have constantly.

Raul’s sexual impotence is also a metaphor for this, the impotence of the Chilean people. They are ruled by guns and fear and can’t see a way out of it. This is a strong, prideful people so it must have been extra galling to have been so powerless.

Castro, a renowned Chilean stage actor and director, looks a little like Al Pacino but gives an outstanding performance as the amoral Raul. His only passion is for the role he so desperately longs to inhabit; when that is threatened, he reacts viciously. He defecates on his friend Goyo’s suit because he feels threatened that he might beat him in the television competition.

This isn’t always an easy movie to watch and in some ways, Castro does too good a job in making the unlikable Raul truly repugnant. It gets to the point where you want him to get caught for his crimes which would of course mean the movie would come to an end but the sad truth is that a penny ante sociopath could easily fly under the radar in a place where brutal repression was so in vogue. That’s the most horrific part of the movie by far.

WHY RENT THIS: A chilling look into a sociopath in Pinochet-era Chile. Castro gives a riveting performance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The lead character may well be too unsympathetic to get behind.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of nudity and sex, as well as extreme violence. Not for children in any way, shape or form.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Chile’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It didn’t win the nomination.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Film Geek