2 posts categorized "Video Essay"

May 22, 2016


ElleCannes, France —Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” is a diabolically gleeful black comedy brimming with sly social commentary and traumatically induced sexual fetishes. It is an exquisite film. The director of such instant classics as “Starship Troopers” and “Black Book” uses Philippe Djian’s novel “Oh…” as a launching pad for an erotic suspense thriller packed with thematic material regarding the thin line between sociopathic and psychopathic behavior.

Isabelle Huppert is the only actress in the world who could pull off such an incredible high-wire act, and she does it with delicious aplomb. The ubiquitous Huppert plays Michele, an anti-heroine unlike anything you’ve ever imagined. Her occupation as the head of company that creates bizarre video games is an ideal outlet for her unique set of social skills that tend to involve her voracious bi-sexual appetite.

Michele’s highly polished survival instincts derive from a trauma she suffered when she was 10 after her father went on a neighborhood killing spree that claimed 27 human victims and many animal fatalities before he returned home to Michele whose assistance he employed in burning down the family residence. Her psyche is as pre-disastered as her ego is well defended. Still, Michele is not immune to attack. After being raped by a masked intruder, Michele toughens up even more rather than involve the police. Michele’s childhood experiences with law enforcement have forever soured her from seeking assistance from Johnny law. She’d rather fantasize about exacting revenge against a rapist that she correctly presumes will return for more. Michele treats friends, family, and employees with equal ironic disdain. The effect is dark hilarity. The tone of the film aligns with Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s “Carnage,” but has a looser, more inclusive, feel to it.


Compositionally, the picture is exquisite. Director of photography Stephane Fontaine (“Rust and Bone”) provides detailed depth to Michele’s deceptively dangerous bourgeoisie surroundings. Michele’s murderous reveries take on an element of BDSM fantasy that hit dramatically composed high notes of thematic resonance.

It seems doubtful that “Elle” will win the Palme d’Or for its Cannes competition debut, but its inclusion in the festival’s grand arena sends the right message. “Elle” will confound some viewers just as “Starship Troopers” did. Michele takes no prisoners, and neither does Verhoeven in a film that flauts conventional wisdom about degrees of misogyny, feminism, sexual intrigue, and individuality. Daring, ribald, and scathing on every level, “Elle” is a movie that sets a standard that 21st century cinema should aspire to. It kicks Hollywood in the teeth without lifting a finger. Glory.

Rated R. 130 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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December 12, 2012


Django_unchainedBack With a Vengeance: 
Tarantino Pushes Homage and Allegory to 11

You know from Tarantino’s audacious choice of intro music — the haunting theme song from Sergio Corbucci’s iconic 1966 Spaghetti Western “Django,” that the maestro-of-all-things-tasty has many surprises in store for his delighted audience. Campy, funny, shocking, and seeping with sardonic social commentary, “Django Unchained” is Quentin Tarantino’s finest film to date.


The madness of slavery, i.e. racism, hangs thick in the air of the American South circa 1858. Tarantino says of his film’s representation of the pre-Civil War South: “It can’t be more nightmarish than it was in real life. It can’t be more surrealistic than it was in real life. It can’t me more outrageous than it was in real life.” Indeed, groans of audience empathy arrive at intervals with the agony we witness on-screen. Tarantino’s allegory regarding the use of torture couldn’t be more obvious.


In typical revenge-plot fashion, Tarantino establishes the nimble bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz) as the kind of man who can get himself out of any situation. The retired dentist “purchases” freedom from slavery for Django (Jamie Foxx) to assist Schultz in identifying a trio of brothers named Brittle whose heads carry a hefty reward. Django proves more than qualified for hunting down and killing slave-owners. Working together as a team, Dr. Schultz and Django craft a complex plan to free Django’s enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the evil clutches of Leonardo DiCaprio’s plantation owner Calvin Candie. “Candyland” is name of Mr. Candie’s plantation where he cultivates “Mandingo” slave warriors who fight to the death. DiCaprio’s centerpiece monologue — wherein the actor accidentally cut his hand and chooses to use the blood draining from his hand — is the stuff of cult movie legend.


Tarantino’s plot acrobatics have never seemed silkier — or bloodier for that matter. Blood doesn’t just splatter — intestines explode from bodies. More than a pure Spaghetti Western homage, the overall piece is an exploitation cinema mutt. Every character name rings with a bell pulled from Tarantino’s vast cornucopia of movie inspirations. The big-kid auteur gives shout-outs to everything from Gordon Parks’s “Shaft” to martial arts action star Sonny Sheba. The effect is an onion-layered communal movie for film lovers to rally around. I dare say that all those involved in the making of “Django Unchained” had more fun making it than just about any other group of actors and filmmakers. The comic joys and dark delights are up there on the screen.


As with all of Tarantino’s films, “Django Unchained” is filled with spellbinding dialogue and outstanding plot twists. One such sequence of steadily building suspense arrives after Schultz has freed Django. Our two heroes enter a bar where the white owner insists that they leave immediately for the obvious reason that they don’t allow black people. Schultz handily dispatches the man, and sends for the sheriff while he and Django take a seat with a couple of mugs of beer. Naturally the bigoted sheriff shows up with a chip on his shoulder that the good “doctor” is only too happy to permanently remove. Shultz sends for the town Marshall, who in turn shows up with a posse of gun-toting thugs. The scene culminates in a crescendo of character-revealing magic. It’s not too early to call “Django Unchained” an instant classic. Movie lovers rejoice; Q.T. is back in the house.


Rated R. 160 mins.

5 Stars

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