Film Brief: Elle

I though Elle was going to be about a woman who was sexually assaulted, and then took that experience and instead of feeling victimized by it, turned it around, flipped the script and used it to her empowerment.

Instead, we get a muddled take on Basic Instinct-cum-pseudo Hitchcock psychological crime drama.  Operative word is muddled.  The movie held me well enough through the first half or so, but lost its way later on.  A disappointed, marginal no.  5/10

A Double-Splish, A Bigger Splash

Top: “A Bigger Splash” by David Hockney; Bottom: A Bigger Splash, currently in theaters

There will be two “Bigger Splash” movies this year.  One of them is a documentary on David Hockney, the great Los Angeles-based artist.

The movie A Bigger Splash takes on a theme I’ve seen in a few indies lately: that of vacations going south.  Force MajeureThe Two Faces of January, and The Loneliest Planet are examples of this concept in recent years.  Terror flicks like I Spit on Your Grave or Hostel also technically fall under this category, though we’re talking there about a very different type of film, obviously.  It’s a great storytelling tool because it allows ordinary people to be placed out of their element, out of their comfort zone.  Vacations allow ordinary people to face extraordinary circumstances.

A Bigger Splash - text block

 

Force Majeure was the best at this, in the psychological drama side of the bucket.  One of the problems with A Bigger Splash is that it is not completely confident of what it is trying to be.  As a psycho-sexual drama, it had me pretty well gripped for about the first three-quarters, at which point it took the inevitable turn as given away in the trailer — and suddenly became a completely different and much more mundane picture.  Because of this, I was going to render a marginal thumbs-up, but the film did stick around in my head just long enough for a 7/10.

Comparison Notes: besides the films mentioned above, Swimming Pool (2003) — one of those movies I’ll have to see again to post on; La Cérémonie (highly recommended)

Film Brief: The New Girlfriend

The New Girlfriend - poster

Less plot than a 23-minute episode of Dates on the CW: not good for a nearly two-hour long movie.  Even Blue is the Warmest Color was a narrative powerhouse compared to this.  They don’t do much, but the pair of likable characters — and a great cabaret sequence — lift Une Nouvelle Amie to 4/10.

PS – The title translates as A New Girlfriend, so a miss right off the bat.  A minor quibble with the marketing, but it’s one of those things that annoys me.  On the plus side, I like the 1950’s/60’s-esque poster graphics.

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Film Brief: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl - poster

There is a tremendous amount I liked about The Diary of a Teenage Girl, but it left me wanting more.  It was like a train ride — or more appropriately a passage on BART — with 14 stops.  But it takes 16 stops to get me home.

Early in the film, her mother tells Minnie that she has a power she doesn’t realize.  My biggest problem was that this promise is left unfulfilled.  Still, Diary is very fresh, and very good — I just wasn’t over the moon with the product as a whole.  A solid recommendation; 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Welcome to the Dollhouse, Nymphomaniac, Ghost World

UPDATE on MI V: I think I was a little too harsh.  Upon reflection, there were enough good things thrown in to yield a 4/10.  Still thumbs-down, but I didn’t hate it or anything.

Docu Log: Hot Girls Wanted

Hot Girls Wanted - posterHot Girls Wanted documents the “amateur porn” industry by following a few girls who are chewed up and spit out by it.  Though the subject matter is powerful stuff, the filmmaking is fairly mundane, like reality television gone explicit.  As the situation steadily devolves for the ‘actors,’ the movie becomes more compelling in its intimate portraits, enough so that I was tending toward a marginal recommendation.

Then the following night I watched the Frontline episode on solitary confinement within US prisons (see next post) and was reminded of what good documentary filmmaking is like.  It helps to have a good narrator instead of just throwing text on the screen.

I will credit Hot Girls Wanted for sparking this thought: how twisted is it that prostitution is illegal, yet porn — which can be much worse — is perfectly legal?  5/10

Friday Fun Flick: Teeth

Teeth - poster large

Speaking of novel vectors in cinema.  Carina Chocano, for the LA Times:

YOU could never accuse Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of artist Roy) of pandering to market expectations. His first feature, “Teeth,” is a dark, gory and hilarious sendup of contemporary prudery, teen horror films, Christian abstinence programs, rampant cultural misogyny and latent gynophobia in ancient mythology that plays serial castration by vagina dentata for laughs.

… Campy, shameless and sophisticated, Lichtenstein’s debut is gutsy and original, and it makes “Juno” look positively tame by comparison

Teeth is not a masterwork by any means, but it’s a fun film that fills a niche found nowhere else in film.  You’ll have a good time with this one, and won’t forget about it any time soon.  Available via iTunes rental.

Cinematic Greats: Bound

Bound - poster

Terrifically fun, highly stylized modern film noir with lots of dark humor — in 2008, I wrote:

Bound, 1996, with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, is a delightful mob movie with a twist – the mobster, played uniquely with humor by Joe Pantoliano, becomes the target of a plot against him by his wife (Tilly) and Gershon.  I saw this in the theater when it came out.  It is the only movie I can think of where after about 10 minutes into the film, I was literally on the edge of my seat for the duration of the picture.

Bound - text blockRoger Ebert awarded his highest rating:

“Bound” is one of those movies that works you up, wrings you out and leaves you gasping. It’s pure cinema, spread over several genres. It’s a caper movie, a gangster movie, a sex movie and a slapstick comedy. It’s not often you think of “The Last Seduction” and the Marx Brothers during the same film, but I did during this one–and I also thought about “Blood Simple” and Woody Allen. It’s amazing to discover all this virtuosity and confidence in two first-time filmmakers, Larry and Andy Wachowski, self-described college dropouts, still in their 20s, from Chicago.

So in other words, for a dose of the Wachowskis, you’re better off watching Bound — even a second or third time — than opting for their most recent offering, Jupiter Ascending.  It’s funny that Bound ended up a somewhat forgotten film, while their Matrix enterprise became completely ubiquitous, a staple of cinema.

BONUS!  Bound’s available on Netflix.