Review: Payday

[Originally published in Movietone News 27, November 1973]

Probably what the people who made Payday had in mind was an exercise in a sort of cinematic new journalism—an objective, but highly commercial, look at life as it is played out on the highways and in the hangouts of the country-western music circuit. Certainly producer Ralph J. Gleason, record company VP and Rolling Stone contributing editor, possesses the sort of credentials which would enable him to authenticate the milieu, as well as accurately assess its box-office potential in the wake of such films as Marjoe, Carry It On and Don’t Look Back—not to mention the current romantic fervor for country-western singers who have served time, been dopers, picked cotton—in short. Seen hard times. Audiences obviously get a charge out of nosing about the behind-the-scenes lives of big-name entertainers, satisfying their healthy or unhealthy curiosity about the necessarily diminished or tarnished identities of performers once they are no longer magnified by that magic circle of limelight. Then too, lurking in even the most sophisticated minds is the old cliché that these showbiz folks, for all the glory, lead really sad (or better yet, depraved) lives.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 13

“Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” The same goes for visual compositions. In this Front Page, the right shots take the place of the almost right shots—and the result is galvanizing. When the lens takes in a two-shot of opposing journalists instead of a wide shot of the entire company, or when a star reporter who’s “going New York” spits out his new address to his colleagues, then writes it on the wall in one unbroken move—instead of delivering his speech in a flat profile—it’s not just great “filmed theater,” it’s also a real live movie.” Criterion’s latest double-feature redeems the entire notion of remakes, while restoring luster to the never-really-seen original. Michael Sragow reports on how Milestone’s The Front Page is finally seen anew thanks to the recent discovery of the director’s preferred American release cut; while Farran Smith Nehme reminds us that His Girl Friday has never needed such building-up, regardless of how Hawks came by the idea of the gender flip. (“Remarriage plots are the most grown-up variation [in the screwball comedy toolkit], because these are the movies that say two people can be perfectly suited and still louse it up. Matching (or, if you will, marrying) this device to The Front Page, so famous for its bite and cynicism, resulted in the most bracingly adult screwball comedy (and romance) of them all. Hawks and Lederer found a fresh spin on the remarriage comedy, making the question not how the wandering spouse will find her way home but how she’ll get back to work.”)

“I suggested earlier that one has to cut through layers of superimposed cultural meaning to get down to what The Witch is. And this interlude in which I’ve described Eggers’ fastidious focus on craft might make it sound like I’m about to assert that The Witch is a tightly controlled aesthetic exercise rather than an ideological statement—a painting rather than a thesis paper. But I don’t think Eggers is a “formalist,” if we’re defining formalism as privileging the aesthetic over the thematic. He uses craft as a conduit for empathy. It’s telling that Eggers praises Bergman’s technique in the same breath as he praises Bergman’s compassion—and Sven Nyqvist’s. To call a cinematographer “compassionate” is to assert that the camera’s gaze can be loving, dignifying; it is to assert that the act of photographing people, and portraying them honestly and generously, carries moral weight.” For Lauren Wilford, once the inevitably over-simplified political and feminist readings of The Witch have faded away, the movie can be taken for what it is: a debut promising a great, idiosyncratic career.

Keep Reading

Review: Paterson

If Paterson, New Jersey, already seems overblessed with great poets—William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg both laid claim to the place—Jim Jarmusch believes it may have room for one more. In Jarmusch’s Paterson, the bard in question is a bus driver, an agreeable young man who organizes his life according to a timetable. He has to; he’s a bus driver. But he also writes poetry, and periodically we see his poems projected on the screen. They are written in the off minutes of his job, and they have the beguiling lightness of words written in off minutes. Despite the appearance of casualness, we can see that these words are carefully and precisely chosen.

That is of course a description of the peculiar charm of Jarmusch’s own movies, which—from Stranger Than Paradise to his 2013 gem Only Lovers Left Alive—have projected a superbly crafted shagginess. Paterson joins this list, and is one of the most pleasurable movies in recent memory.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Notes on Blindness

Visually depicting sightlessness is a tough task for even the most inventive of moviemakers. (Derek Jarman’s 1993 film Blue, in which Tilda Swinton and others talk over a hypnotically static shade of the title color, remains the experimental gold standard.) The re-created documentary Notes on Blindness takes a distinctly proactive approach to this dilemma, utilizing a steady array of clever effects to depict the rapidly deteriorating vision of its subject. While the film’s other device of having actors lip-synch from existing tape recordings may seem clunky in theory, the sounds and images come together beautifully in practice.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Review: I Could Never Have Sex with Any Man Who Has So Little Regard for My Husband

[Originally published in Movietone News 27, November 1973]

I Could Never Have Sex with Any Man Who Has So Little Regard for My Husband is a private party that never gets off the ground for the characters or the audience, although it may have been lotsa laughs for the people who made it. I haven’t read Dan Greenburg’s “sex novel” or his autobiography of sex-play, Scoring, or anything else but a couple of similarly oriented pieces (I mean…) in Playboy; but this movie has nothing new to tell anyone about why friendly couples swap or don’t swap, and there’s nothing new about the way that nothing is related to us. The main characters, with the probable exception of Andrew Duncan’s stuffy lab type, are fairly sympathetic, but the performances are klutzy in a like-us-because-we’re-klutzy way that has worn out its welcome by now, considering how many non-actors and non-directors figure they can get by on it. The situation: two couples take a vacation home for the season on Martha’s Vineyard where they encounter the new marital morality at one of a series of institutionalized parties and gingerly play at bringing the game home with them. Comfortable friendship and the sanctity of marriage prevail in the end, as far as the main characters are concerned, while the screenwriter and producers stroke each other off by taking walk-on (but much-discussed) parts as the local swingers of record. A home movie all the way.
Keep Reading

Review: Mystery of the Wax Museum

[Originally published in Movietone News 27, November 1973]

For years recorded as lost by more than one film history, the original Mystery of the Wax Museum (remade in the Fifties as House of Wax) suddenly popped up on channel 13’s Dr. Zingrr hour with its 1933 Technicolor intact, even. Or perhaps not so intact: frequently one seemed to be watching a standard black-and-white flick on a color TV with the red turned up, and it’s difficult to say whether this reflected the natural pallor of two-color Technicolor, the fading of the dyes over the intervening decades, or bum transmission and/or reception. Whatever the precise causes of the effect, there was more of a thrill in seeing a resurrected title out of legend than there was in anything Michael Curtiz and company had wrought onscreen.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 6

“Pagnol’s roots as a novelist and a playwright show in his intricate understanding of networks, of crosscurrents that whisk the characters away from seemingly nearby finish lines. He has an astonishing grasp of destiny, not as a sentimentally celestial branch of predetermination, but as a series of prisms fashioned by the push and pull between emotion and human-contrived social structures.” A restoration of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseilles Trilogy (for he is clearly the prime author, if only the director of the final installment) has Chuck Bowen marveling at the novelistic richness of the films; while Jeremy Carr is astonished by the lifelike, quotidian detail. (“[These] films take their time, making sure to supplant in the drama properly ample space for joking digressions and an informal laze-away-the-day realism. César’s boisterously high emotions are capricious, sometimes in the span of the same outburst, but that variability mirrors the gracefully juxtaposed outrage of the series in general; characters will get angry and breathlessly passionate, but the film itself—grounded, cautious, unflappable—refuses a wholly agitated tone.”

“He is the exile director: a Latin American who made most of his movies in English, French, or Portuguese—and whose aesthetic inhabits an absolute alien territory. His films are drifting, fantastical, introspective, melancholy, erudite, raucous—sometimes telling no story at all, sometimes telling too many. He made so many films, and they so consistently refuse to obey whatever formal rules we’ve come to expect from cinema, that they tend to develop into a blurry whole in your mind.” Adam Thirwell on Raúl Ruiz, of course, flush from a retrospective so partial it doesn’t even feature the movie it was named after, discussing how Ruiz’s narrative tangents and love of tableau vivant open cinema up to stories and visions unapproachable by more conventional means.

Keep Reading

Review: Hidden Figures

If it were more purely about the workplace and less about the homefront, Hidden Figures might have an even stronger case for shining a light on unknown American history. The history in this case surrounds NASA and the lives of three black women who set a new standard for the status of African-Americans in the space program. The three women only occasionally overlap, but we meet them in an outstanding opening scene as they carpool to NASA’s Virginia site in the early 1960s. A minor problem stops the car, which is really no challenge given the mechanically minded women driving it; the ladies bide their time with jokes and easy, confident banter as they tinker with the engine. Then a police cruiser stops by, and the freeze that descends over the scene is immediate. The cop isn’t especially menacing; but these are black women and a white police officer in the Jim Crow South, and that is enough for instant watchfulness.

A terrific moment, which though defused sets the tone for what is to come. Throughout Hidden Figures the reality of being black and female is presented as a struggle that never ends.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Parallax View’s Best of 2016

Welcome 2017 with one last look back at the best releases of 2016, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.

Sean Axmaker

1. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
2. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
3. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
4. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
5. Sully (Clint Eastwood)
6. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)
7. Neruda (Pablo Larrain)
8. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
9. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
10. Our Little Sister (Kore-eda Hirokazu)
Could have made the list on another day: Arrival, Don’t Think Twice, Hail, Caesar!, Jackie, La La Land, The Lobster, Love & Friendship, Moonlight, The Neon Demon, The Witch

Pure moviegoing joys of the year: Sing Street (John Carney), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)

Performance of the year: Isabelle Huppert in Elle

Worst film of the year (in a year when I managed to skip most of what everyone else has branded as terrible): Nocturnal Animals

Also a list at Village Voice, plus lists of Best Restorations / Revivals of 2016 and Best Blu-ray/DVD Releases of 2016

Sheila Benson

1. Moonlight
2. Paterson
3. Toni Erdmann
4. Manchester by the Sea
5. I, Daniel Blake
6. Elle
7. Loving
8. The Handmaiden
9. A Bigger Splash
10. Aferim!
Also a list at Village Voice

David Coursen

It includes only films screened in D.C in 2016. Numbers 5-7 were shown only once; the others had more extended runs.
1. Manchester by the Sea
2. Mountains May Depart
3. No Home Movie
4. Moonlight
5. The President
6. Sieranevada
7. Behemoth
8. Little Men
9. Remember
10. Sully
Honorable Mention: Mustang, Certain Women, The Handmaiden

No D.C. venue saw fit to screen the monumental Out 1: Noli me Tangere, so it’s not included. But even in the diminished format of a Netflix streaming and with all the ludicrous writhing and moaning, it’s such a grand and heroically ambitious muddle that I likely would have made it a rather incongruous neighbor of Moonlight.

John Hartl

Moonlight
Manchester by the Sea
Indignation
13th
Captain Fantastic
The Lobster
Hell or High Water
A Man Called Ove
The Innocents
La La Land
A second 10: Florence Foster Jenkins, A War, Love & Friendship, Family Fang, Take Me to the River, Arrival, Weiner, Southside With You, Snowden, Sparrows.

Robert Horton
(originally published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Aquarius
2. Our Little Sister
3. The Fits
4. Cemetery of Splendor
5. Things to Come
6. Everybody Wants Some!!
7. Sully
8. Paterson
9. Green Room
10. Aferim!
Runner-ups: My Golden Days, The Lobster, American Honey, Les Cowboys, Certain Women, Disorder, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, The Love Witch, Love & Friendship.

Richard T. Jameson

I have some key 2016 releases to catch up on, so this alphabetical listing simply celebrates ten films I liked a lot.
American Honey
Aquarius
Arrival
Cemetery of Splendor
Elle
Green Room
Hell or High Water
Manchester by the Sea
Paterson
Sully
Things to Come

Oh … that’s eleven.  OK, so it’s eleven.

Jay Kuehner
(originally published on IndieWire)

1. Toni Erdmann
2. Cemetery of Splendor
3. Aquarius
4. Kate Plays Christine
5. Neon Bull
6. Happy Hour
7. Right Now, Wrong Then
8. Homeland: Iraq Year Zero
9. Certain Women
10. Moonlight

Moira Macdonald
(originally published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
Arrival
Fences
The Handmaiden
Hell or High Water
The Innocents
La La Land
Loving
Maggie’s Plan
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Other movies I loved, any of which might have made the first list on a different day, were L’Attesa, Certain Women, Christine, Dark Horse, Don’t Think Twice, Finding Dory, Little Men, Love & Friendship, Our Little Sister, Southside With You, Tower.

Andrew Wright
(originally published in Salt Lake City Weekly)

1. Paths of the Soul
2. The Fits
3. Shin Godzilla
4. Elle
5. Hell or High Water
6. Green Room
7. The Witch
8. Tower
9. Manchester by the Sea
10. Arrival
Also a list at Seattle Screen Scene and links to reviews of select films here

Filmmakers

Megan Griffiths (director, Eden, Lucky Them, The Night Stalker)
(originally published in The Talkhouse)

1. Moonlight
2. American Honey
3. Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell
4. Uncle Kent 2
5. Free in Deed
6. 13th
7. Captain Fantastic
8. Manchester by the Sea
9. Lamb
10. The Lobster

John Jeffcoat (director, Bingo: The Movie, Outsourced, Big in Japan)

This is one bizarre list. It shows I have kids and I didn’t get out much in 2016! And that TV continues to stay strong (sorry I cheated with the TV shows).
Captain Fantastic
Deadpool
Storks (biggest surprise, I may have been drinking)
Doctor Strange
Cameraperson
Minimalism
Rogue One
Goliath
Silicon Valley
Stranger Things (my favorite)

Jennifer Roth (executive producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Blood Father)

Alphabetical order because I kind of liked them all equally.
Certain Women
Gimme Danger
Green Room
Hell or High-water
I, Daniel Blake
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Paterson
Sing Street
Weiner

Lynn Shelton (director, Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, Laggies)

There were many films that I didn’t get a chance to see this past year so this list comes from a limited survey. That being said, I feel very strongly about every one of them.
Moonlight
13th
The Lobster
Victoria
Arrival
American Honey
Moana
Kubo and the Two Strings
Hell or High Water
Atlanta *
*this is not a movie, it is a TV show on FX, but it is so anti-television in its cadence and cinematography and writing that I felt a very strong urge to include it in this list.

Rick Stevenson (director, Magic in the Water, Expiration Date, The Millennials)

La La Land
Captain Fantastic
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Fences
Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea
Love & Friendship
The Lobster
Silence

Programmers

Beth Barrett (Interim Artistic Director, SIFF)
(originally published on IndieWire)

In no order, here are 10 works that really affected me in 2016:
Tower
La La Land
Stranger Things
Captain Fantastic
Moonlight
Tickled
Kedi
Midnight Special
Arrival
The Handmaiden
Every year I resolve to see more, champion more unknowns, and challenge myself more. Going into 2017, I resolve to make sure that the stories of the world keep getting seen.

Courtney Sheehan (Executive Director, Northwest Film Forum)
(originally published on Seattle Screen Scene)

1. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)
2. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
3. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi)
4. A Rendering*
5. Los Sures (Diego Echeverria)
6. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sangsoo)
7. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
8. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
9. Crumbs (Miguel Llansó)
10. Tower (Keith Maitland)
Not yet released: Lily Lane, Ma, Rat Film, The ChallengeKino OtokThe Black PinMy Own Private WarStarless Dreams
Recalling 2015’s best unreleased films, all of which subsequently played Seattle in 2016 except for The EventAbove and BelowCemetery of SplendorMen Go to BattleUncle Kent 2, My Golden Days, A War, The Event
*The only short on this list, by LIMITS, or Seattle-based choreographer/dancer Corrie Befort and sound artist/musician Jason E. Anderson. Video shot and edited by Adam Diller.

More Seattle lists:

Mike Ward has been polling Seattle film critics for the Seattle Film Awards for a few years. The winners for 2016 will be announced in early January. UPDATE: Winners announced January 5.

Seattle Screen Scene invited film critics for their own compilation.

Polls / Lists

Village Voice
Time Out London
Slant
Sight and Sound / BFI
Roger Ebert.com
Indiewire
Film Comment

Other lists

2016 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1926
A Year of Loss (David Hudson remembers those we lost in 2016)

Best Blu-ray & DVD releases of 2016

We’ve been hearing people pronounce the death of DVD and Blu-ray for years now. You’d never know it from the astonishing wealth of Blu-ray debuts, restored movies, and lovingly-produced special editions in 2016. The sales numbers are way down from a decade ago, of course, thanks in large part to the demise of the video store, which drove sales of new movies to fill the new release rental racks. The studios still handle their own new releases on disc but many of them have licensed out their back catalog to smaller labels—some new, some longtime players—who have continued to nurture the market for classics, cult films, collectibles, and other films from our recent and distant past. Criterion, Kino Lorber, Shout! Factory / Scream Factory, Twilight Time, Arrow, Olive, Blue Underground, Flicker Alley, Raro, MVD, Cinelicious, and others have continued to reach those of us who value quality and deliver releases that, if anything, continue to improve. We prefer to own rather than rely on compromised quality of streaming video and the vagaries of licensing and contracts when it comes to movies.

2016 has been as good a year as any I’ve covered in my years as a home video columnist and paring my list of top releases down to 10 was no easy task. In fact, I supplemented it with over two dozen bonus picks and honorable mentions. My approach is a mix of historical importance, aesthetic judgment, quality of presentation, and difficulty of effort. It is an unquantifiable formula influenced by my own subjective values but you’ll see some themes emerge. I favor films that have never been available in the U.S. before, significant restorations, discoveries, and rarities. But I also value a beautiful transfer, well-produced supplements, insightful interviews and essays, and intelligently-curated archival extras. You’ll see all these in the picks below.

Out1Box1 – Out 1 (Kino Lorber / Carlotta, Blu-ray+DVD) – This was my cinematic Holy Grail for years, Jacques Rivette’s legendary 12-hour-plus epic of rival theater companies, an obsessive panhandler, a mercenary street thief, an obscure conspiracy, the post-1968 culture of Paris, puzzles, mysteries, creative improvisation, and the theater of life. The history is too complicated to go into here (check out my review at Parallax View) but apart from periodic special screenings it was impossible to see until a digital restoration in 2015 followed by a limited American release in theaters, streaming access, and finally an amazing Blu-ray+DVD box set featuring both the complete version (Noli me tangere, 1971 / 1989) and the shorter Out 1: Spectre (1974), designed for a theatrical release after French TV balked at his original vision. It was shot on 16mm on the streets with a minimal crew and in a collaborative spirit, incorporating improvisations and accidents and morphing along the way. The disc release embraces the texture of its making and also includes the new documentary “The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 Revisited” and an accompanying 120 page bilingual booklet. There were more lavish sets and more beautiful restorations on 2016 home video, but nothing as unique and committed as this cinematic event, which made its American home video debut over 40 years after its first showing. Full review here.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, December 30

The new issue of Lola has finished rolling out, with Laura Mulvey on Lola Montès (“In one remarkable scene at the centre of Lola Montès, Ophüls plainly lays out the film’s key theme, while his mise en scène and the characters’ choreography present, equally explicitly, a formal statement on cinema and on CinemaScope”), Yusef Sayed on Tony Conrad (“Across the … years, Conrad would continue to jam signals, change the tonic, boost the contrast wherever his own practices directed him—with a view to renegotiating the terms on which the individual, media and society might intersect.”), Susan Felleman on the artistic nods (to painters and sculptors, natch) in David Lynch (“Twin Peaks’ Venuses are part of a dreamscape…. Thus, these are images that can float free of material culture; if they can be said to ground their respective scenes at all, finally they ground them in fantasy.”), and Girish Shambu on the A to Z of James Gray (“E for Emotion:  A word that crops up frequently in interviews with Gray—and one that clearly carries an enormous personal weight for him”).

“Curled over a table in an upscale Mexico City restaurant recently, the 55-year-old director gets a little irritated when I laud the film’s imaginative prescience. ‘This thing was not imagination,’ he says, jabbing his index finger into the tablecloth. By Cuarón’s estimation, anyone surprised at the accuracy of his movie’s predictions was either uninformed or willfully ignorant about the way the world already was by 2006. ‘People were talking about those things, just not in the mainstream!’ he says.” As Children of Men reaches the decade mark—and the world apparently decides to celebrate by rushing to live up to its vision—Abraham Riesman looks back at its making with Alfonso Cuarón, who insists the film wasn’t prescient, but rather utterly contemporary.

Keep Reading

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, December 23

The new issue of cléo arrives, with a focus on firsts. The theme is treated variously by the contributors, from Erin Delaney’s appreciation of the assault on heteronormality in the Wachowski’s Bound, particularly in contrast with other lesbian-themed noirs of the period (“While Basic Instinct is preoccupied by the fear that sexual performance may indeed be just a performance, Bound ultimately finds a profound power in Violet’s ability to deceive men both socially and sexually”); Clara Miranda Scherffig’s placing of Heaven Knows What (based on the writings of its first-time actor Arielle Holmes) in the tradition of The Panic in Needle Park and Christiane F. (“In casting actual drug users and soliciting their input, the Safdies were able create a narrative that conveys the attractions of drug use and street life—since getting sober, Holmes has spoken about missing “the adventure” of living on the street[iv]—without romanticizing addiction and homelessness”); a look at the one-take Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda and its American remake Silent House by Nadya Sarah Domingo (“As Laura’s terror and confusion intensifies, the camera seldom breaks from her perspective, and the viewer sees the events of the night through her experience as a survivor of abuse and other unforgivably violent acts. The single take here is intimate and uncomfortably so.”); and a roundtable on women’s sports movies (“I think the thing that is really striking about movies that feature women in sports is that the women are always “not like other girls.” […] [I love these] movies, but I hate how our heroine is defined by the fact that she hates traditionally “feminine” things.”).

“Weber doesn’t lavish a lot of close-ups on Pavlova, preferring instead to show the dancer-star in longer shots. This may have had to do with Pavlova’s age (she was in her 30s and not remotely girlish, at least here), but it also comes across as a shrewd directorial choice that serves both the story and the star.” Speaking of feminism and firsts, Manohla Dargis catches up with the restoration of 1916’s The Dumb Girl of Portici, and the other groundbreaking works of its director Lois Weber.

Keep Reading

Robert Horton on The Finest Films of 2016

While everybody else wonders whether 2016 was the worst year since 1968, or simply the worst year ever, the conversation in the world of cinema has brightened of late. Yes, for much of the movie year, 2016 was declared calamitous. Maybe movies were dead, or maybe were they merely much worse than television. And then (as always) a bushel of terrific, smart, challenging films arrived in the final weeks. From the vantage point of December, cinema looks very much alive.

The biggest disappointment of the movie year was Hollywood itself, and not just because Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are calling it quits, devastating as that may be to our lives. The cycle of remakes and sequels was more relentless than ever, and they seemed emptier this year than usual. Of the superhero genre, only Deadpool showed signs of life … by ridiculing the clichés of superhero movies, And it made a lot of money doing so. Meanwhile, a would-be franchise starter, Warcraft, offered more fun than anything on the Marvel slate, but flopped in the U.S., although the international market—crucial to a blockbuster’s success now—saved the day.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Elle

Paul Verhoeven’s American phase was too nasty to last, really, with movies like RoboCop and Starship Troopers giving the audience what they initially thought they wanted, and then cranking up the vulgarity to hysterically uncomfortable levels. (Even Hollow Man, the Dutch director’s weakest project, had a main character who pervs out immediately upon receiving superpowers.) Verhoeven’s films outside of the states, however, tend to swap the 2×4 for a stiletto. Elle, his first feature since 2006’s Black Book, is a breathtakingly twisted piece of work, utilizing a tremendous central performance by Isabelle Huppert that bridges some markedly taboo fault lines concerning power and sexuality. And somehow the damned thing is also funny, usually at the least opportune moments.

Continue reading at The Stranger