Full Review: GRETA (Ireland/USA 2018) ***

Greta Poster
Trailer

Director:

Neil Jordan

Writers:

Ray Wright (screenplay by), Neil Jordan (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

Some films are best if seen without any prior knowledge of the plot.  Neil Jordan’s GRETA is one of them.  As in Jordan’s THE CRYING GAME, the shock occurs when the girl the protagonist is having sex with suddenly is shown with a penis.  The big surprise secret comes literally out of the closet at the 30-minus mark of Jordan’s latest psychological thriller GRETA.  

Set in NYC, Isabelle Huppert plays a widow (the film’s original title was THE WIDOW) developing a friendship with a naïve young woman, Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz).  Frances returns the handbag she finds on the subway to its rightful owner, Greta (Huppert).  The scene in the subway station in Manhattan was shot at Bay Station, Toronto.  It is ironical that the Transit’s Lost and Found in Toronto is located at this Bay Station.  Frances recently lost her mother and feels alienated by her father (Colm Meaney); Greta has lost her husband, and her daughter lives far away.   The two become fast friends much to the consternation of her best friend Erika (Maika Monroe).  Erika turns out to be a bigger part in the story than envisioned.

Unfortunately, the film ends with a totally unlikely twist in the plot that could only happen in a one in a million chance.  This spoils an otherwise excellent thriller.

Still all things given, having seen the film twice, there are many pleasures derived from GRETA.  One are the excellent performances by the two leads, Huppert and Moretz.  Huppert is sufficiently creepy and nasty, a character the audience would love to hate, contrasting the innocent character of Frances who is so naive as to return a handbag with the cash intact.

Another pleasure is the campy dialogue, obviously written to bring the audience up to the type of talk of the present.  When Frances tells Erika of returning the wad of money found in the handbag, Erika remarks on use of the money  “Spa or colonic?”  Erika continues that a friend who had colonic can now recite the alphabet backwards.  When Frances later declines an outing invite from Erika, Erika’s retort is: “Am I snorting meth or you are telling me you are going dog shopping with the old lady?.”   And another instance, Erika warns Frances: “The crazier they are, the more clinging they are.”  The use of the chewing gum metaphor is also funny, “sticking around”.

As expected in a Jordan film, the film contains some very nasty (though camp) sequences.  One is when Frances uses the cookie cutter to slice off Greta’s finger.  Huppert is so good in her role as the menacing predator, that any audience member would also gladly slice off her finger.  The camera quickly focuses on the blood spurting vertically out from the severed finger – a deliciously camp moment.

The film is largely shot in Toronto around the Bay Subway Station area.  Those who live downtown  will immediately recognize the familiar streets and buildings.

Though one can tell was will happen in this predictable horror fare, GRETA is still guilty pleasure due largely to Jordan’s flare for the weird.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7SUePnsxWo

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Film Review: HAPPY END (France/Germany/Austria 2017) ****

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Happy End Poster
Trailer
A drama about a family set in Calais with the European refugee crisis as the backdrop.

Director:

Michael Haneke

 

Austrian director Michael Haneke, whose last film in 2012 AMOUR won both the Best Foreign Film Oscar and Cannes Palme d’Or returns with a sequel that continues the exploits of the Laurent family.  Though critics at Cannes were generally unimpressed with HAPPY END, the film is still not without its artistic pleasures.  For one, Haneke still shocks with this film, though on a lighter scale.

HAPPY END can be seen as a film that infuses many of the traits of Haneke’s previous films.  When the film opens, the audience sees what is happening though the recording on a cell phone, the routine of a 12-year old (Fantine Harduin) similar to the video surveillance in Haneke’s film CACHE (HIDDEN).  This 12-year old is not one to be tampered with.  She has a mean streak, spying on her father’s (Matthieu Kassovitz) computer and discovering his affair and poisoning a girl she dislikes at camp and her pet hamster.  This is reminiscent of the power of children in Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON.  The bourgeois French family is held together by Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert), the father’s sister.  But suicide is in the mind of Anne’s father, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).  In Hanake’s first film, THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, the whole family committed mass suicide after a banquet meal.  The dysfunctional family is all reminiscent of FUNNY GAMES in which a family is disrupted by a home invasion.

HAPPY END follows AMOUR where Anne has taken over the family business from Georges.  The business has also just suffered a mishap in which several employees were killed.  The CEO of the company is Anne’s deadbeat son (Franz Rogowski) who is hot-tempered and mentally unstable.  At the same time, Anne is being engaged to be married to her tolerant fiancé (Toby Jones).   All the events are seen from the point of view of the 12-year old, which brings the film to a good focus.

HAPPY END is a film that looks at the entire Laurent family rather than one or two characters as in Haneke’s other films.  It is also lighter and funnier with death often just brushed off.  In the scene when the servants’ daughter is bitten by a dog, Anne arrives with a box of chocolates.

But HAPPY END is serious in its consideration of suicide.  Georges, in a comical scene, asks his tailor of 20 years to help him with getting him a gun or poison to end his life.  Georges has already made one attempt on his own life by driving his car into a tree, but the family and cops have suspicions as the car left no tire brake marks.

The film ends with the wedding celebration of Anne rudely interrupted by her unstable son, Pierre with refugees from a nearby camp in Calais..  Hanake cleverly  places the European migrant crisis into the the film’s plot in the film’s climatic wedding scene .  But Anne is able to deal with him, in a comical, unexpected way.  (She breaks his finger.)  The ending is just as funny and shows that life goes on, happy or not.  What constitutes a HAPPY END, is the question Haneke poses.

HAPPY END flows so smoothly that it demands a second viewing to examine what one might have missed.  The film is shot in French.

Trailer (en Francais): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0hv8I9YbDk

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TIFF 2017 Movie Review: HAPPY END (France/Germany/Austria 2017) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

HAPPY END.jpgA drama about a family set in Calais with the European refugee crisis as the backdrop.

Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz

Review by Gilbert Seah

HAPPY END can be seen as a film that infuses many of the traits of Haneke’s previous films. When the film opens, the audience sees what is happening though the recording on a cell phone, the routine of a 12-year old (Fantine Harduin) similar to the video surveillance in Haneke’s film CACHE (HIDDEN).

This 12-year old is not one to be tampered with. She has a mean streak, spying on her father’s (Matthieu Kassovitz) computer and discovering his affair. This is reminiscent of the power of children in Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON. The family is held together by Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert), the father’s sister. But suicide is in the mind of Anne’s father, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).

In Hanake’s first film, THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, the whole family committed mass suicide after a banquet meal. The dysfunctional family is all reminiscent of FUNNY GAMES in which a family is disrupted by a home invasion. All the events are seen from the point of view of the 12-year old, which brings the film to a good focus.

The ending is just as funny and shows that life goes on, happy or not. What constitutes a HAPPY END, is the question Haneke poses.

Trailer (en Francais): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0hv8I9YbDk

Interview with director Paul Verhoeven (promoting Golden Globe winning film “ELLE”

elle.jpgAs of this writing, “ELLE” was the winner of 2 Golden Globe Awards (Best Actress, Best Foreign Film), and the lead actress Isabelle Huppert was just nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. A must see film from a legendary director.

Paul Verhoeven is a director from my childhood. My friends and I used to love watching “Robocop” during out monthly slumber parties. Then “Total Recall” entered our world right at the time we all started getting interested in the supernatural and girls simultaneously. By the time “Basic Instinct” came along, I was a young teenager and let’s just say the movie made a deep impression on me. As I grew from a boy to a young adult, Verhoeven’s film grew with me.

So I have to say that I was a bit nervous meeting him in the staged interview hotel room at TIFF 2016. I had 15 minutes and when Paul walked in you could tell I was going to be around his 50th interview in the last few days and the hotel room backdrop is a very familiar site to him.

For my first question, I wanted to ask him something that was interesting and/or intriguing to him and perhaps a question he was never asked before, or at least not asked while he was promoting “ELLE”.

Matthew Toffolo: What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

Paul sat there motionless for more than a few seconds with his head looking at the ground. I thought I blew it right from the beginning. Then.

Paul Verhoeven: I’m thinking. I’m thinking.

Lawrence of Arabia. North by Northwest. Belle de Jour. Vertigo. Those are the films I keep going back to.

He smiled at me. I smiled at him. Then it was time to do the interview and let him move to the next one.

MT: You seem to balance your films between your European life and your Hollywood life. ELLE seems to strike a nice mixture of both. Was that your initial intention?

PV: Well in Europe, you have more power as a director. In Hollywood, you have more excess and money. Of course you like to have both, but that’s not the case. So yes, we were attempting to make a Hollywood type of film with ELLE using the European format.

MT: I heard your initial intention was to make this an English language film?

PV: Well it’s a French novel. The producer of ELLE, Saïd Ben Saïd, thought it could be an American movie. We went to an American screenwriter and wrote it as an USA movie, based in America. Then we found out that we couldn’t get the right funding. But the real problem was that we couldn’t find an American actress. None of them wanted to do it. From the A list down. They all turned the project down.

MT: Why do you think so many actresses turned down the film?

PV: It’s a different kind of movie. If this was a straight up “revenge” film, then I’m sure many would want the role. But this isn’t a revenge movie. It’s someone more. This is a film about a woman who refuses to be a victim. In fact, even after she discovers who the rapist is, she moves over that.

MT: Was Isabelle Huppert your first choice to play the lead when you decided to……?

PV: No. She was my first choice. She read the book and wanted to do the role. After the “American adventure” was over and I told the producer that we should make this movie in France, he immediately picked up the phone and called Isabelle and she accepted right away. So it was really her to chose me.

MT: There is no straight up genre in this film?

PV: No, there isn’t. This is a film about the discovery of this woman. Who she is. The book is a study of character and that’s the movie we wanted to make. All of her relationships in this movie, from her lover, best friend, her father, her rapist – the construction is about her and what’s around her. If I made this a straight up thriller, then it would deny what this story is all about.

MT: When did you novel read the novel?

PV: It was sent to me by the producer who asked if I wanted to make this into a film. I read it right away and told him “yes”.

MT: How long was it from the time you read the novel to the completed product?

PV: I read it at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015 and we started shooting a year later. The only obstacle was our initial intention to turn this into an English film. That was the only delay. Until I decided it was supposed to be made in French, we got the production rolling in a matter of months.

MT: In the novel she’s a literary agent. In the film, she’s a video game developer. Why the change?

PV: I was trying to find a profession that was more visual. My daughter came up with that. I was talking to my family at the dinner table talking about the film and my youngest daughter, who is a painter, suggested this which of course lead to the themes of the film.

The publicist entered the room and said it was time to go. I really could have chatted with Paul for another hour – but what can you do.

“ELLE” is an exceptional film. One of the best of 2016. I hope you go see it!

_____

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.