Friday, June 16, 2017

NORMAN: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2017)



Rated:  R

STARS: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg
DIRECTOR: Joseph Cedar
GENRE: Drama

Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don't. You won't get that until the end of the movie. One that is well worth sitting through to groan at my little pun!

So here we have Richard Gere. I never thought I'd see the day when he would totally dampen down his sex-appeal to play a character as quirky as this one. Gere is Norman Oppenheimer--a New York City flim-flam man. A schemer. A dreamer. A name dropper. Always working some angle that's going to hopefully put him into the black. But he's not very good at it. The epitome of those who live lives of quiet desperation, and he wears that look like it's painted on him from start to near finish of Norman:The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.

And while Norman has some visually delightful and imaginative cinematography, Gere's character is as drab as anyone could ever look. He wears the same overcoat and "old guys' cap"--you know, the one that's supposed to look sporty but only old dudes wear them--throughout the entire film! Wardrobe expenditure for Mr. Gere: next to zilch.


Where Norman's rise begins is when he gloms onto Micha Eshel  (Lior Askenazi), a visiting Israeli politician. He buys the man a pair of shoes at a swanky boutique and nearly faints dead when he sees the price tag.  It turns into the best investment of  his life when Eshel becomes the Israeli prime minister.  For a while, Norm is living his dream of schmoozing with the movers and shakers. But where there are politicians there will be scandal, and our man finds himself smack dab in the middle of it, headed for a fall (hey, they tell you that in the title, so no spoiler there).


His years as a major heartthrob may be a thing of the past, but Gere is adapting nicely and establishing himself as a fine character actor. And there are noteworthy performances from Steve Buscemi--as a RABBI no less; and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist; Nymphomaniac) who uncharacteristically keeps her duds on the whole time while delivering a sensitive portrayal as Norman's chance encounter on a train. And Lior Ashkenazi's character, whether he's up or he's down, is muy sympatico throughout. 

The thing I pondered as I left the theater is whether our protagonist changed even a whit in the end. Because Norman has only one gear (pardon the pun), but it's fascinating to watch him roll through the stops signs as he goes for broke at every turn, desperately trying to stay in the race. 

Grade:   B +


JILL'S TAKE

The best thing about this loser of a movie are the puns it created in Tim's review. I kept thinking "This has got to get better!" But it didn't. Not by a long shot. It's never easy to sit through a film where the main character is so desperately needy and sychophantic. And I, for one, prefer Richard Gere as an aging sex symbol to a smarmy weasel like Norman Oppenheimer. I have to give the director Joseph Cedar credit, though, for enlisting the talents of so many fine actors. Steve Buscemi was already mentioned but there were cameos by the likes of Michael Sheen, Hank Azaria and Harris Yulin. But that's the ONLY thing I'll give Cedar credit for.

I still don't know what half the movie was about – and couldn't care less. I found the score intrusive when it interrupted those endless conversations Norman insisted on having with people who avoided him like The Plague. There were so many loose ends in the script that it felt like a shag rug gone rogue.

But I try to find something positive in every review I write, so here goes: I applaud the acting of Lior Ashkenazi. Very believable. (And it probably doesn't hurt that he's an Israeli playing an Israeli politican!) Interesting last name:Ashkenazi Jews are people who are descended from the Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe. Around 80% of the Jewish people around the world are Ashkenazim, including most American Jews.

Regardless of what you believe, "Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer" is – like its subtitle – painfully long-winded and uninviting. 

Grade: D -

Monday, May 29, 2017

THE LOVERS (2017)



Rated:  R

STARS: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts,  Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen
DIRECTOR: Azazel Jacobs
GENRE: Comedy-Drama

How many times can you lie to your spouse and get away with it? Indefinitely, apparently (or nearly the length of an entire movie), when both partners are doing it in the casually absent-minded way of those who've settled into the  comfortable but dispassionate rut that all long-term relationships seem to be subject to at one point or another.  The Lovers, then, could have aptly been titled The LiarsThe Lovers is a good title, though,  because it implies the irony of the situation.  

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are a mid-life couple who are cheating on each other. Michael's muse is Lucy (Melora Walters), a children's ballet teacher. Mary's new squeeze is Robert (Aidan Gillen), a younger, aspiring writer. Both Mary and Michael are under pressure from their lovers to end their spousal relationship. The tension builds, often in subtle comic fashion, as neither of them are quite up to the task of following through. But their college student son and his girlfriend will be coming home for a visit, and each of them plans to drop the bombshell on the other right after the kids leave. Then a funny thing happens. Out of the blue, Michael and Mary start getting randy with one another again. It's that everything-old-is-new-again thing, brought about by that everything-new-gets-old-again thing. OMG--now they're cheating on their lovers with each other! There's your story complication, and we are half grinning, half cringing for the remainder. 

Things are not this breezy all the way through. Michael and Mary's son (Tyler Ross) acts more like a five year-old throwing a temper tantrum than a young man who's been on his own in the world for a little while. His behavior stands as a ringing indictment of his upbringing, something else that his parents will ultimately have to reflect upon. It all comes to a head in the powerful climactic scene. Here's where Debra Winger, one of the best in the business, gets to shine.

Winger, at age 62 in real life, is still eminently doable, in my book. So it's not at all implausible that she, as Mary, would draw the attention of a younger man. Lucy and Robert are also attractive people. The oddball in this foursome is Michael. He is the epitome of nondescript, and borders on what Marlon Brando might refer to as a "big tub o' guts" (beaucoup points for you if you can name the Brando flick that comes from!) Why either Mary or Lucy would have been drawn to him in the first place is unclear. Was this an error in casting (Tracy Letts)? I thought so at first. Then I realized that when I am out and about, I see what appear to be mismatched couples all the time. Only THEY know what the attraction is, but if they are happy, more power to 'em.

The Lovers shows us the fickle frailty of the human heart, and why it's constantly tripping us up. It's saying things we already know to be true, but are too bound by convention to admit to one another... or to ourselves.

Grade A 

JILL'S TAKE

Well we agree on Debra Winger, who I've been in awe of ever since An Officer And A Gentleman (1982). Aside from her overall sex appeal, I'm drawn to her Suzanne Pleshette voice. Deep. Throaty. (Pardon the pun!) But Hollywood has ruined me as far as watching old people have sex. Namely tubby Tracy Letts -- whose credits include writing the script for August: Osage County(2013). It's realistic, I'll admit. But so uncomfortable to witness.

Scriptwriter/director Azazel Jacobs must have figured this out, too. As he gave Lett's character a backstory that made him attractive in his earlier days as an aspiring jazz pianist. (They say women will turn a blind eye to a guy's physical imperfections as long as he plays a musical instrument.) But there's a scene towards the end of this movie that made me cringe even more when the fat, unfaithful spouse starts nostalgically playing a song on the piano (which he hasn't touched in years) and sings. Oh god. It made me miss seeing the oldsters screwing! 

But at least I had no trouble getting the message of this film. The tagline for The Lovers should have read 'the grass in always greener...'

Grade:  C+

Thursday, May 18, 2017

THE DINNER (2017)



Rated:  R

STARS: Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, Chloe Sevigny
DIRECTOR: Oren Moverman
GENRE: Drama

You think your kids are monsters? Well, where do you think that comes from? Here's a hint: look close to home...look pretty close to home.

Two couples meet at a pretentious "fine dining" restaurant (always remember that fine dining is a code phrase for pretentious and overpriced).  Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is a congressman who's running for governor.  Paul (Steve Coogan) is the politician's younger brother, a history teacher who's becoming increasingly deranged as he battles mental illness. His mother was a whack job and the strain has been passed on. Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall are Claire and Katelyn--Paul and Stan's spouses respectively.

Stan wants to discuss some weighty issues, but he never gets to them because his assistant (Adepero Oduye) keeps butting in with "I'm sorry, but you really better take this call." Is it any wonder why their sense of self-importance gets blown way out of proportion?  

Eventually it is revealed that the two couple's 16 year-old sons have perpetrated a heinous crime upon a homeless woman sleeping inside an ATM kiosk. Just for the sheer glee of it. But the identities of the perpetrators have not been discovered by the authorities, and there's a chance they won't be. So now we have the existential dilemma among the four adults. Turn the boys in and hope for mercy from the courts...or cover it up and hope it goes away? They are scrunched between a rock and a hard place as the possible effects of this unforseen detour of fate upon Stan's political future loom large. In the process of what follows, each of the parents tip their hand as to what kind of people they really are. And it isn't pretty.

Paul is the most interesting character here, as his tenuous hold on keeping it together slowly slips away--leading to a desperate and misguided act near the end.  For the most part, Steve Coogan is believable in the role.  If Paul is the most interesting, then Claire is the scariest of the bunch. She starts off as something of a sympathetic figure--she's dealing with cancer--but if there is such a thing as "spontaneous" mental illness, the transformation takes place before our eyes in her frenzied and illogical defense of her son as she tries to make black white and vice-versa. It has to be difficult to play such a burgeoning psychopath without veering off into soap opera territory, and unfortunately she steps over that line. But Linney has been a fine actress for a very long time, and I won't mark her down much for that. Rebecca Hall holds her own as the disgruntled congressman's wife who puts them all on notice that she's only going to take so much shit. And Gere, with this performance, ought to run for something. What makes The Dinner special is that the only character in the movie with any integrity is the POLITICIAN! (Yes, I'm tempted to re-label the genre of this film as fantasy.)

I should say something about the ending without giving it away. As the closing credits rolled abruptly onto the screen, a patron a few rows down from me shouted, "THAT SUCKS!" That was my knee-jerk reaction as well. Now, having had some time to let it marinate, I'm sure there was a method to the madness (pardon the pun) of director Oren Moverman concluding the drama the way he did.  I just haven't figured out what it is yet. 

I'm giving The Dinner a higher grade than some others might, on the strength of a very good cast and at least it wasn't boring. 

Grade:  B


JILL'S TAKE
I loved the ending! And that's not like me—having made the point in previous reviews that I prefer things spelled out. But unlike the idiot who sat near Tim, I felt the up-in-the-air ending was exactly like what happens with real family impasses: they never get totally resolved. And I felt that the fancy restaurant setting, complete with a cadre of waiters serving each course, was almost a separate character in and of itself. (The only sane one of the bunch!)
I can't say enough about Steve Coogan, whose American accent was spot on. I remember seeing him in Philomena with Judy Dench (for which he also cowrote the screenplay) and being super impressed. And his character was so believably rational one minute and mad as a hatter the next. No wonder it rubbed off on his wife. And probably their son. 
By the third paragraph in these shared opinions, I usually write about some cinematic flaw. But with The Dinner, I can't find one. The score was minimal -- as I felt it should have been. The flashbacks were totally followable (is that even a word?).   My only criticism might be how small a part Chloe Sevigny had as Barbara Lohman, Richard Gere's first wife. (As sane as she seems, one wonders why she ever married him?) You won't leave the theater smiling. But you won't leave it unthinkingly, either!


Grade: B+

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

COLOSSAL (2017)






Let's say you're a rageaholic, or a raging alcoholic--or some other out of control type. You might not even be aware of the damage your behavior may be doing to innocent lives. And with that I've given you a big one-up on everyone else who may be quite clueless themselves as to the deeper meanings behind Colossal--the quirkiest and most thought provoking film to come down the pike since Alejandro Inarritu's Birdman. Of course, that's just one take on it. You may come away with something different. That's the beauty of this Beast. It will make you scratch your head and use your...noodle! (Some folks don't want that--they want it all spelled out for them.)

Anne Hathaway (who also produced the film, so she's in it up to her sweet derriere ) plays Gloria--a kooky chick with apparent memory problems stemming from her being drunk a lot. She lives with her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), in his New York apartment...but not for long. As the film opens, he is in the process of kicking her aforementioned ass to the curb. He's fed up with her ongoing bullshit. She can't believe it. She doesn't think she's that bad (they never do). 

She lands back in her upstate hometown, squatting in her parents' abandoned house. On the way there she runs into her old childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who operates a local bar. He obligingly takes her on as a waitress. They sit around after hours and drink, which seems to suit Gloria just fine. Then comes a BIG twist--as big as when the space invaders appear out of nowhere in Cowboys And Aliens. A gigantic kaiju monster shows up in Seoul, South Korea and begins doing what all Godzilla-esque creatures do over in Tokyo, and that is to stomp around (innocently enough in its brain, you always get the feeling) knock down a few buildings and terrorize the populace. (Cue Carol King singing "I feel the earth...move... under my feet...")  And while it's not Japan, the people of Seoul know the drill...run for your lives!!! These scenes of terrified folk scurrying thither and yon may be the most believable thing in the movie--if you're going to take everything at face value. But you don't want to do that.

Gloria, sleeping it off in the local park, wakes and watches live news reports of the monster on her mobile device. Then the strangest thing. She discovers that when she raises her arm, the monster raises its arm. Any movements she makes, it follows in sync. She's doing a Howdy Doody number on a colossal creature thousands of miles away! Not only that, but when Oscar shows up at the park, there appears a humongous robot counterpart to the monster that begins following his every move! The monster and the robot become giant projections of Gloria and Oscar. This is where it starts getting real good! And this is where I'll leave you hangin.'  Except to say, in philosophical terms, the micro is the macro. 

Wait...here's a little more. There are flashback scenes to when Oscar and Gloria were kids together that give some plausible explanation as to why they are able to do what they are doing (as plausible as it gets in Colossal, anyway!)    

If you think in terms of metaphor, it's easy to come up with shades and shards of meaning. The butterfly effect. Personal responsibility. The seemingly insignificant (to us) things we do can have far-reaching consequences--creating monstrous bugaboos on the scale of global warming, for one.  

Approaching the Gloria and Goliath climactic scene, I was getting an adrenaline rush that evoked the first time I saw Rocky. That's a film I've viewed multiple times, and I will see Colossal again--you bet!  ( Will prolly buy it when it comes out on DVD.)

This is why I go to the movies. To be swept into another world.  Even one as off the wall as this. There is plenty of precedent for this kind of whimsy. We've rubbed elbows with the Mad Hatter...defied gravity with Uncle Albert (how stoned was that guy?)...and would have gladly loaned E.T. our smart phone--if they had been invented in 1982--and eavesdropped on his loooong distance call. 

As Bill Murray once said: It could happen! 

Grade:  A

JILL'S TAKE
I knew there was a good reason I left Tucson for California: you Arizonans are crazy! Only a crazy person would sit through this sci-fi monster movie twice.... As you must know by now, I want my films "all spelled out." (Thanks, Tim.) And spelled out Colossal isn't. I did leave the theater scratching my head. But it was due to the pounding in my brain from so many cinematic inconsistencies. I was hoping Tim might explain why these alcohol-induced monsters appeared in Seoul rather than in the aforementioned park? And why, if they represented the monster in all of us who over indulge, they looked so unlike the people whose rage created them? (The art director must have been Korean.) 
But I must admit I never got bored. And among the myriad points the script kept trying to make, I did love the idea that Jason Sudeikis' character – trapped in a town with nothing to do but drink and be a nobody-- got totally hooked on his monster's power. (He could finally "be somebody.") This made me think of all the serial killers who feel a rush every time they pull the trigger. It didn't, however, save this film from being a mish-mash of too many metaphors.

There have been many films that dwell on the evils of drink (Lost WeekendLeaving Las Vegas28 Days) but they all have one point to make: too much alcohol can destroy you both literally and psychologically. Alas, Colossal gets overloaded with messages about the monsters in all of us who abuse booze. But too much thinking about drinking can make a very confusing movie....

Grade: C+


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

CATFIGHT (2017)



NR

STARS: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone
DIRECTOR: Oner Tukel
GENRE: Dark Comedy


We tend to think of a "catfight" as a snotty verbal altercation between two women that might, if it gets out of hand, devolve into some hair pulling. This ain't that kinda thing. This is Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. Bare knuckled.

And in this corner, weighing one hundred and seventeen pounds...

Don't be deceived. Catfight pits a couple of cinematic heavyweights--Sandra Oh and Anne Heche--against one another in a knockdown drag out slugfest of epic proportions!


Sandra Oh Plays Veronica--a self-absorbed housewife married to a wealthy industrialist war profiteer.  Anne Heche is a struggling lesbian artist. Freud would have a field day with her paintings. They haven't seen each other since college when their paths cross at a glitzy birthday party. Old resentments surface. Verbal barbs begin to fly, and soon thereafter the fists. Veronica gets the worst of it and ends up in a coma. For two years. Meanwhile, Ashley's fortunes have changed, and she is now a celebrated artist. Veronica has lost everything and takes work as a maid. 


Fate throws the two of them together again and another brawl ensues. This time Ashley loses--by a knockout--and ends up in a coma. For two years. When she awakens, all her funds have gone to pay the medical bills, and her notoriety is gone. And the first one now shall later be last...there but for fortune...and all that. I love the symmetry of it. In all, there are three grudge matches between them where the punches fly and the blood flows freely. Some people are just always rubbing you the wrong way.


Catfight makes its satirical statement in a not so subtle way. No reading between the lines required. It has to do with, among other things, our national obsession with violence and war. With every punch thrown, there's the mandatory SOCKO sound effect (which you don't hear in a real fight) that's in every TV show and movie that features fisticuffs. Which is most of them. 


Sit in front of the tube for a couple hours and take note of the shows they promo during the breaks. What do they show in these short clips? Somebody getting punched or shot. We've grown so numb to it, we're no longer aware of what it's saying about us. Maybe a clue to that is in the "Fart Machine"--a guy who interrupts the late night TV host's monologue by parading out and feigning flatulence. Everybody who watches this is highly amused--and, of course, distracted from what's really going on around them. (A statement about our declining intelligence level?)


Catfight is like a hot fudge sundae. Dark and delicious. And yes, dark humor requires something of a sophisticated mindset to be able to differentiate it from that which is being presented as deadly serious. Through humor the most serious of issues are often examined. The darker the humor, the more deadly serious those issues can be. And that's why humor should not be taken lightly.


Grade:  B +  



JILL'S TAKE

OMG! I can't believe what I just read. At the end of Catfight, I turned to Tim and whispered, "This is, bar none, the worst f---ing movie I've ever seen!" Dark humor be damned. The tag line of this turkey should have read: "Thelma and Louise Meet Wrestlemania" with a little Animal House thrown in for good measure. Sheesh! (My personal expression of disgust.)

I can just imagine the "pitch" for this non film went something like, "Listen, JB. Let's get two bankable female stars to beat each other up for 96 minutes. We've seen tons of movies where guys do it but it's time to give women their due." Billed as a 'black and blue comedy,' the plot was so unbelievable, and the violence so un-funny, that I just plain hated it. Except for the musical score. They don't list a scorer but the musical supervisor, Devoe Yates, must have had a blast picking famous classical themes such as Grieg's "Anitra's Dance" to contrast with the battles going on onscreen. Still, I have a problem with violent comedies. (I wasn't particularly amused by Married to The Mob or My Cousin Vinny, either.) Maybe it's just me. After all, the Tomatometer gave it 76% -- but the audience score wasn't nearly as favorable...

The really sad part? Catfight is the last movie Tim and I will see together. I leave for California in two days. For good. We'll still write our joint reviews long distance but it won't be quite the same without him quietly disagreeing with me (or not!) as the credits roll. 

Grade:: F


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

THE SALESMAN (FORUSHANDE) 2016

Rated: PG-13
STARS: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidooosti, Babak Karimi
DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi
GENRE: Drama

The Salesman isn't about how different it is to be a young-ish married couple living in Iran from their counterparts in the United States. It's about how similar it can be.The difference being, of course, that in Iran they live under a repressive regime where what can be performed onstage, for example, may be screwed with and altered at the whim of government censors. Though right up until the 1957 landmark court case that centered around Allen Ginsburg's epic poem, "Howl," there were similar restrictions on freedom of public expression that existed here in the states. (Check with the ghost of Lenny Bruce for further details.)

Our couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), are performers in a Tehran production of Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman. Emad mentions in passing that three lines from the play might come under scrutiny from the censors. Once we are past that, The Salesman is a purely personal story of two people working on issues in their marriage.


While taking a shower, Rana is attacked by an unknown assailant who has crept into their apartment. Emad finds her at the hospital with a head wound. Keeping a stiff upper lip, she denies being raped to save her husband further anguish, but we can put two and two together. The plot centers around his personal detective work in tracking down the perpetrator. The twist at the climax is that it's not someone we would normally suspect. The way that retribution will come down upon this person becomes a source of conflict between Emad and Rana, rattling the very foundation of their relationship. When is compassion more appropriate than punishment? That's the food for thought you'll be munching on as you leave the theater.   


It's up to interpretation what the intended metaphor of Arthur Miller's play is to the relationship between this couple; though as performers they have a public persona to maintain...a mask to put on...the show must go on and all that rot, while behind the scenes the growing strain on their marriage shows on their faces. 


The Salesman won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 2016. Filled with noteworthy performances, it follows in the footsteps of director Asghar Farhadi's other cinematic gem, A Separation (2011). It's something of a slow mover in the beginning, but the fireworks at the end are well worth the wait. 


Ultimately, it's about people and how they struggle with the basic questions of relationship and existence. And that transcends geographical and political boundaries. 



GRADE:  B +


JILL'S TAKE

After reading Tim's review of this film, I feel guilty not liking it more. I loved one aspect of the premise, i.e. how will an Iranian husband – as opposed to an American one -- deal with his wife's abuser? Good question! (And I'm not about to reveal the answer!)

But what exactly does the subplot of Death Of A Salesman have to do with anything? That's my main gripe. If, as Tim opines, it's about this couple's public persona versus their private angst, I feel far too much cinematic time was spent on it. This also leads to another complaint of mine: The film's innocuous title, The Salesman. Really?! (I wish I knew the literal translation of Forushande.)

It does leave the viewer asking lots of questions upon leaving the theater which I suppose is a good thing. Was the wife really raped or simply beaten up? Was the perpetrator "acting" physically frail and sickly? Was the couple's marriage in trouble before this incident happened?  Will it survive this trauma?   

The acting was superb. I especially liked and believed the fellow who played the attacker, Babak. Kudos to Babak Karimi. But when I think of other Best Foreign Movie award winners such as The Bicycle Thief,RashomonBlack OrpheusTheVirgin Spring½Seven BeautiesCinema ParadisoLife Is Beautiful (the list is endelss, really), this one got lucky.


Grade: C+

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017)



Rated: R

STARS: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
GENRE: Horror/Thriller

If I had checked beforehand to see that The Cure For Wellness was two and a half hours long, I never would have agreed to see it in the first place. But on the strength of Jill having a thing for the lead actor, I said what the hell. I have since realized that I need to be WAY more discriminating in my film choices!!!

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young finance director for a blatantly greedy corporate entity who travels to a mysterious rehab facility in the Swiss alps to retrieve the company's CEO, who seems to have gotten hung up there and doesn't want to come back. He has some difficulty locating the head honcho within the facility, and before you know it, Lockhart, in classic horror/thriller fashion, finds himself an unwitting patient instead of a visitor. What's keeping him there is whatever is in the water that everyone is encouraged to partake of profusely. Stupid horror flick mistake number one: When you go to another country, don't drink the water!

There's a backstory about the "wellness center" being built on the ruins of a castle that was inhabited by a baron who wanted an heir of pure blood, so he gets it on with his sister. The villagers learn of this debauchery and come with their torches ablaze--the villagers are always carrying torches in every B movie since Frankenstein--and burn the place down. This all has much relevance to the current bizarro director of the spa, Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), and off we go into one of those so-and-so-is-the-reincarnation-of so-and-so things and it's not very original but may appeal to those who love that time weathered plot.

Lockhart meets a strange teenage girl with haunted eyes named Hannah (Mia Goth) who is also "taking the cure," but in fact has been held there, apparently, for all of her days. (Mia Goth is a 23 year-old actress playing a girl of fifteen or so, and she passes believably for that age. She and Jesse Eisenberg should get together and they could play Hansel and Gretel in some film and both of them would just totally look the part.)

So on we go, cuz there's a lot of time to fill, and in time-worn fashion we will find out if Lockhart can extricate himself and the man he came to find from all the weirdness that is going on at the facility--facing roadblocks at every turn, of course. And will he and Hannah ride off into the sunset together--or in this case go drink beer in some pub at the foot of the mountain.

It's not as interesting or as thrilling as I'm making it sound. A good horror flick makes you jump when you least expect it. And it's oooooh scary.  A Cure For Wellness isn't scary. It's just creepy. Really creepy. It pulls out all the stops to bring you cringe-worthy realism depicting heinous and gory cruelty to humans and animals alike. What's the point?  There is no point to this movie, other than to titillate in the cheapest kind of way.  Style over substance. But I'll give them points for style. In fact during the last half hour, I was contemplating giving the film an F, and then I softened some because it's such a totally demented romp that you have to laugh and shake your head and give them credit for doing what they obviously set out to do. The only thing missing is Vincent Price and his blood-curdling laugh from Michael Jackson's "Thriller."    

Grade:  D



JILL'S TAKE

Recently, Tim pointed out to me that several of my reviews say essentially the same thing.  That I'm confused, confounded and don't really "get" what the film is about. Since consistency is something I seriously value, A Cure For Wellness also left me bewildered, bothered but definitely NOT bewitched. It did, however, deliver some scary moments. And as long-running as the movie was, I didn't get bored. Or sleepy.

They pulled out all the stops. Including our handsome hero dashing up and down stairs on crutches due to a broken leg, trying to escape his captors. (I bet Dane DeHaan had to practice that routine a lot!) If you, as a viewer, are the least bit squeamish about watching a graphic sex scene between father and daughter—mind you they are over 200 years old but have somehow managed to stay young-looking—I urge you to pass on this film. (Maybe a better title would have been "Kinkiness From The Crypt"?)

But I do have a thing for the lead actor. Ever since I saw him playing James Dean in the 2015 movie Life. He hooked me even further when I came across him again in the HBO series "In Treatment." But an actor doesn't necessarily make a movie worth seeing...(And as I watched Tim squirm uncomfortably in his seat, convinced that he was about to walk out of the theater, I felt a bit sheepish for talking him into this pseudo scare fest.)

I did love Benjamin Wallfisch's creepy score, though. It added immensely to the tensions of each off-the-wall moment. And let's face, if you want to escape reality, logic and clean living, this movie will do the trick.

Grade: C

Friday, February 17, 2017

ELLE (2016)



Rated: R

STARS: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Charles Berling, Jonas Bloquet, Anne Cosigny, Virginie Efira
DIRECTOR: Paul Verhoeven
GENRE: Arthouse/Thriller/Black Comedy


What does the daughter of a notorious mass murderer do when she grows up? She becomes an entrepreneur--developing bizarre, violent, sexually aberrant video games...what else??? And from the opening scene of Elle--which smacks you right in the kisser...POW!--her life is set on a course to become its own live version of those games.

Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Heaven's Gate, Amour) KILLS in her role as Michelle--a woman who defies labels. She has an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in her back pocket for this one; a gutty, gritty performance that's as physically demanding--she bounces off the walls a lot--as it is emotionally wrenching. She doesn't wear her emotions on her sleeve, however. No...she is the Ice Queen. But it's all in there building up like Mount St. Helens getting ready to blow.  Michelle is bent on finding the identity of  a man who brutally raped her, but she won't go to the police. She'll do it her way, in her own time, as she goes about her daily life. 


"Elle is soooo FRENCH," my cohort Jill observed. Indeed. In French cinema you can address just about anything--murder, mayhem, perversion--and it's all done in such a breezy style that it's bound to elicit a smile.There's a line in there where someone says (to the effect of) that guilt should never stop anyone from doing just what they want to do. It's clear that director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Robocop, Showgirls) took that to heart in making Elle. He got out of Hollywood, where this film could never and would never be made, as it pushes the envelope beyond Tinseltown standards in terms of its frank and brutal portrayal of psychopathic sexual behavior. It blurs the boundaries of film genre. It's a taut and suspenseful thriller, and just when you think that's exactly what it is, in come elements of the darkest kind of black humor. It's a romance too--in the kinkiest sort of way (without giving too much away)--that makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like a Disney movie by comparison!  Elle is tapping into a world of fantasy taboo that some will find uncomfortable to watch, while others may grasp that sometimes we can develop a perverse fascination for that which we find initially most repulsive.  


Elle is not for those with weak bladders, because if you trot down the hall for even a couple of minutes, you'll be left in the dust. The film moves at breakneck speed, and never takes a breather. But keeping up with its twists and turns is half the fun. The other half is watching a transcendent talent at the top of her game--63 years old (in real life) with this and that popping and flopping out here and there, still as sexy and alluring a presence as any I've seen heat up the screen in recent memory. 


Delightful, decadent fun. 


Brilliant!!! 


Grade:  A



JILL'S TAKE

I always suspected Tim was a pervert. Now I know for sure! If I had to create a subtitle for Elle, it would read: "a plethora of possibilities." As a black-and-white thinker, I'm not big on movies that leave me wondering what they're about. But then, that's the raison d'etre of French filmmaking.

I'm also not big on mixing film genres. A thriller should be just that, a thriller. Much of Elle made me feel both terrified and personally violated. But when the story exhibited moments of dark humor, I wasn't laughing. (Like I said before, I'm a b&w thinker.) Still, Ms. Huppert deserves an Oscar for playing 'the most physically demanding role of the year.' Those peppy dance routines in La La Land don't hold a candle to her gyrations!

Along with everything else, I wondered about, the significance of the title.  Elle? The literal translation is "she." But according to The Urban Dictionary, elle can also mean 'feminine, super pretty and sexy.' So I guess the title works. Sort of. But that's the thing about this noirish movie. It can mean a lot of things....sort of.


Grade: C