Reviews written by registered user
gregsrants

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451 reviews in total 
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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
What a Fantastic Surprise, 19 October 2016
7/10

There are so many things I love about the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF). The venue. The people. The films. The shorts. The atmosphere. So many things combine to make the TADFF my favorite film festival of the year.

And one of the more surprising things that occur each year is that my favorite film of the festival will come unexpectedly from left field. This year's crop of screenings held many titles to which I was already aware of their existence. Under the Shadow, Antibirth, Train to Busan, Stake Land 2 and Creepy. These were all titles that I was fully conscious of their information including story, director and cast. But there were a few that I had yet to hear anything about, The Void, Master Cleanse, Kill Command and I am not a Serial Killer. It is with these titles that my hopes rested on finding that unexpected gem that I found in previous TADFF entries in Predestination, Eega and Trick 'R Treat.

By Monday night, I had found it. I am not a Serial Killer is not a film that I would expect many to know much about. The film is based on a 2009 novel by Dan Wells that was part of a trilogy of books in what is considered the John Wayne Cleaver series and includes I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster and The Devil's Only Friend.

In the film adaptation we get introduced to John Wayne Cleaver played by Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are. John is a high schooler that believes he has serial killer tendencies. Or so he tells his therapist (Karl Geary). John works in a morgue run by his family which gives John access to dead bodies that begin to show up with regularity when a serial killer begins to add to their resume in a small rural town. John is fascinated by the killings and how in each instance a different part of the victim's body has been removed. John is eager to use the killings to harvest his fascination with serial killers and this path will lead him down a plot highway that has plenty of surprises leading to a very unexpected climax.

Director Billy O'Brien worked tirelessly to get the rights to bring the Dan Wells' story to the big screen and he does not waste the energy exerted in pre-production. The film has just the right amount of everything and reveals in its own time a plot that is as smart as it is simple.

Back to the Future's Christopher Lloyd gets top billing and is a welcomed familiar face in sea of newbies and the 79-year-old actor shines as the neighbor next door that catches the eye of young Cleaver.

But the movie hinges on the wonderful performance from Max Records. Hardly recognizable from his role in Where the Wild Things Are, Max is perfectly cast in the lead and has a mix of Johnny Depp and Lukas Haas in him which works flawlessly in the role of the conflicted teenager at odds with his family, friends and, at times, himself.

To enjoy I Am Not a Serial Killer is to go in knowing as little as possible about the plot. Letting it go in directions unseen due to no preconceived notions aides in the overall enjoyment of the reveals. So do yourself a favor and just dive into the deep end and enjoy the water.

I Am Not a Serial Killer is another feather in the cap of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. It is not only one of the better films of this year's fest but it is one of the ten best films the festival has ever screened.

The Rezort (2015)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Missed Opportunity, 17 October 2016
5/10

The idea is brilliant. If Jurassic Park can be such a monumental hit but displaying dinosaurs in a theme park type environment – why not try the same with zombies. Again, brilliant.

The Rezort takes place after a zombie epidemic has killed billions of our population. The humans were able to fight the impending apocalypse and gained control over the zombies where they were shipped to a Zombie Safari of sorts. Here, humans can pay large sums of money for their chance to shoot the undead for sport.

The Zombie Safari (Zafari) is a controlled environment. There are countless cameras and fail-safes in place all monitored from a central control room. And the zombies, for the most part, are put on display, like being chained to posts at a safe distance in an attempt at giving the vacationers what they crave while ensuring their utmost safety.

Always wanted to shoot a zombie? Welcome to the Zafari. Wanted to seek some kind of twisted revenge for the loss of a loved one? Welcome to Zafari. Just want to kill something? Welcome to Zafari.

But if we learned anything from the Jurassic Park movies it's that the best laid plans might always end up in chaos. Disorder in this instance comes when a computer virus is uploaded into the central control system which brings the systems offline. Zombies by the hundreds are now able to stroll right up the visitor's camps and, of course, mayhem ensues.

A small group of vacationers are in the middle of the bedlam and look to a veteran sharp shooter named Archer (Dougray Scott) to help them get off the island before a self-destruct order is enacted which will wipe out the entire Zafari.

This is where The Rezort slightly misses the mark. The idea that is at the apex of the setting is inspired. But once the systems go down, The Rezort morphs into a zombies run just a bit slower than the humans but manage to pick one off every few minutes for dramatic effect film. There is a reveal as to what happens to refugees that does add a touch of flavor, but for the most part, The Rezort loses the momentum sustained in the opening sequences.

To be fair, The Rezort is still an above average zombie film. There wasn't one particular kill that stood out from the rest. But there are enough kills to keep the audience engaged. And we would be remiss if we did not comment on the production values which exceeded all expectations.

But we can't leave Zafari without thinking of what could have been. If the film spend more time on the exploration of the park and not so much on a forced story about amokness (yes, I made that word up) then I think we could have encountered one of the most brilliantly conceived zombie films of the past 25 years. As the film ends up a bit of a cliff-hanger, let's hope they get a second chance.

6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Great Thrill Ride, 16 October 2016
8/10

No genre has suffered from volume overload as the zombie genre. Zombie television shows, zombie movies both theatrical and straight to video, city zombie walks….zombies are everywhere. Because of the glut of flesh eating walking dead, no genre has suffered so much with overkill. Zombies themselves are not particularly interesting beasts. They don't have any character. They just run (or slow walk) bite and run (or slow walk) again. You won't find many reviews on the thousands of zombie films that will go into detail about the complex layers of the zombie's inner mind.

With what seems like an endless parade of zombie films each week being offered across various platforms it's a nice surprise when a film such as Train to Busan offers what feels like a fresh take on an exhausted premise.

Train to Busan is a South Korean zombie film brought to us from writer/director Sang-ho Yeon. The idea is commonplace – a zombie apocalypse is underway – but the setting adds to the drama. The movie takes place almost exclusively on a train where the passengers are stuck in in a speeding bullet. And when an infected individual boards the train, the group's only safety will be in the various train cars free of the blood hungry hordes.

The group of characters that face life and death to zombie situations are an eclectic band of heroes and villains including a father and daughter team, a pregnant woman and her husband, a young teenage baseball team and various train attendants. Their survival is hanging on the notion that if the train full of zombies can reach the Busan station where the military is lying in wait.

Although there are plenty of been there/seen that moments in Train to Busan, the film still offers a fresh feel largely due to the claustrophobic setting. There are some fresh ideas – such as what happens to the zombies when the train enters into a tunnel – and these ideas coupled with zombies that run like Olympic qualifiers and above average special effects lead to a heart pounding rollicking good time.

One could not fully review Train to Busan without discussing the ending. Starting with an unexpected train crash the final few reels are filled with one surprise after another. And the ending is almost heart-wrenching in its execution.

Train to Busan is a thrill ride. A thrill ride that was a rousing crowd pleaser when it screened at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. But it is more than just a genre festival favorite. It is one of best zombie films every produced and might just be one of the best movies of any genre in 2016.

Kookie (2016)
Wonderfully Creepy, 15 October 2016

There are many things to love about the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The films, the crowds, the electricity in the air. But one thing that I look forward to more than most are the Canadian short films that are shown before each feature.

The appeal to me about the shorts is that you generally have no information about the shorts prior to their illumination on the screen. There are no online trailers months in advance, no big red carpet ceremonies to roll them out. We can simply sit back in our theatre chair and await the creativity juices to flow from the projector lens.

Up first at this year's Festival is Kookie, a short that is worthy of our attention. Written, directed and conceived in just a few weeks by Justin Harding, Kookie stars Ava Jamieson as Bree, a 9-year-old child with a penchant for eating cookies from the cookie jar then lying about her involvement.

But Bree's attraction to the cookie jar is put to the test when her mother replaces the usual cutesy bear ceramic with a terrifying clown face jar. Bree must then approach a devilishly evil looking jar if she is to keep her insatiable urge for the sweets in order.

What transpires over the full 13-minutes of the short we will leave to your viewing pleasure but we will report that if you have a fear of clowns – something that is ever present in today's news headlines – then Kookie might be the short of nightmares.

There is so much to enjoy in Hastings vision. The cookie jar itself is as downright frightening as any live killer we've seen a horror film this year. But it was the camera work in this short effort that really got our attention. The lighting, framing and focus points were all the work of a master. We are not accustomed to such professional looking imagery on the screen when a filmmaker utilizes a budget likely less than the average person's credit card limit.

All this makes Kookie one of our favorite shorts to even show at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. And that is high praise.

31 out of 66 people found the following review useful:
Unstructured Mess, 15 October 2016
3/10

Before we even get to our review of War on Everyone, we urge those who have yet to see writer/director John Michael McDonagh's previous works – Calvary, The Guard – to take the time to seek, relish and savor two of the best hidden gems of films that have sneaked in and out of our playlists for the past few years.

McDonagh's latest, War on Everyone, is a cop/buddy comedy that pairs actors Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) and Michael Peña (End of Watch, The Martian) in a story about two corrupt officers who eventually meet their evil match in present day New Mexico.

Terry (Skarsgård) and Bobby (Peña) seem to have come from the Alonzo Harris School of Policing. That is if Alonzo Harris worked for Police Squad! Terry and Bobby run rampant through the city they are sworn to protect with reckless abandon. They drink and drive, do drugs, threaten criminals and generally just break all the rules in the police handbook between reprimands from their commanding officer played by Paul Rieser (Aliens).

Terry is the heavy drinking womanizer that has the intellect of a Joey Barone. Bobby is the (supposed) smart one who has a family consisting of a wife and two boys that he throws verbal barbs at like he was auditioning for Bad Santa 2. But while on the job, the two are more alike than different in that their goal is to survive each day with civilian disregard.

So the two sniff, drink, shoot, smash, punch, kick and speed through daily challenges all of which seem stitched together without any true cohesive narrative. Whereas this year's The Nice Guys had a dense story coupling two unlikely characters in a plot that develops and builds on each new character introduction, War on Everyone instead treats each new scene and character like a disposable Saturday Night Live skit. Even the two leads don't look like they are having much fun as they plod through the shallow script pages. Only Malcolm Barrett, who plays informant Reggie, shines with scenes that have any appreciative value.

The film ends up being a convoluted mess. John Michael McDonagh can write. His previous efforts confirm that statement. And War on Everyone should have been something that would fit his style. We had hoped to see how a foreigner would write a movie about American violence and policing. Instead, we got War on Everyone, a movie that is so awkward and contains so many scenes that seem so distant from the one just before that it takes McDonagh down a long snake in the Snakes and Ladders Hollywood game.

Christine (2016/I)
12 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
Remarkable Story Unremarkably Told, 18 September 2016
4/10

The story of Christine Chubbuck is as fascinating as it is tragic. A contributing news reporter for WTOG and WXLT-TV in Florida in the 1970's, Chubbuck was a tormented soul who was the only person ever to commit suicide on live television when she put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. Rumored to the inspiration for Peter Finch's suicide in Sidney Lumet's Network, Chubbuck's suicide sent ripples through the industry and the footage of the event has either been lost, destroyed or sealed in a safety deposit box depending on the urban legend you are prone to believe.

Director Antonio Campos (Simon Killer, After School) takes on the task of telling Christine's story to audiences unfamiliar with the tragedy. Actress Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3) throws herself into the title role. Allowing her to stretch her acting chops beyond smaller roles in The Town and Frost/Nixon, Hall is generally convincing as an adult who has inner demons always working against her better interests in her head.

The story picks up the last year of Christine's life. Christine is a news reporter who strives for better television. She marvels in human interest stories and fantasizes about interviewing President Nixon. Christine is in constant conflict with those around her. Whether it's her live-in mother and new boyfriend to whom Christine disapproves, her station manager who believes in the 'if it bleeds, it leads' mentality, or with her own better judgment, Christine seems to be fighting small battles every day of her life.

Christine is thrown a lifeline by news anchor George Peter Ryan (played by Dexter's Michael C. Hall). Ryan believes in Christine's efforts even if her methods might be disapproving. A recovering addict himself, Ryan might be Christine's best ally in his understanding of her challenges. Christine has an underdeveloped crush on the young anchor and is enamored when he eventually asks her out for a date.

Further conflict comes into play when the owner of the station announces his intention to open a sister station in Baltimore and is looking to leverage some of the talent from Florida. This puts the station staff in mini-competition with each other in hopes of catching the owner's eye. But when George Ryan and the female sportscaster are picked for the new station, Christine loses her last thread of hope for acceptance which leads her to request a lead in the next broadcast. The broadcast will be her last.

The final moments of Christine Chubbuck's life stays true to the facts of the evening. After a filmed reel segment jams and cannot be shown, Chubbuck looks into the camera and says "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in 'blood and guts', and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide." She then took the revolver from her purse and shot herself in the head. She later died in hospital.

Unfortunately, the story is more fascinating than the events that play out in Christine. It's difficult to show inner demons and although Rebecca Hall's dark eyes portray a woman in conflict, the progression from a balanced individual to someone who would commit suicide on live television is not pitched in a way that audiences can follow the downward spiral. Although Christine is portrayed as unstable the breaking point is not presented in plausible fashion.

Rebecca Hall alone is reason to watch Christine and she is in every scene carrying the movie to its inevitable conclusion. But an underwhelming script by writer Craig Shilowich does little but have audiences hope for something – anything – to happen to keep us interested in the character development on screen.

Christine is one of two films about Christine Chubbuck that premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival the other being the Kate Plays Christine which has actress Kate Lyn Sheil preparing to portray the role of Christine. Let's hope that film gives us more insight into what is still an unbelievable story yet to be properly told.

LBJ (2016)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Safe Non-Offensive Look at the 36th President, 18 September 2016
6/10

Few things are as comfortable as a Rob Reiner film. The director who is still commonly referred to lovingly as Meathead by fans of the iconic All in the Family television series has been directing films since the early 80's and his films are consistently entertaining inoffensive fair marketed to mass audiences. The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, The American President and The Bucket List are just a sampling of the director's filmography that audiences will be familiar.

Those that watch Rob Reiner on the talk show circuit would know that the outside of being an actor and director, he is very political activist who uses his celebrity status to bring attention to equal rights and to social issues such as violence and tobacco use.

So it is a bit of surprise that Rob Reiner has never made a film that might leverage his strong activist lifestyle. Until now, that is.

LBJ is Rob Reiner's film about the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, who was thrust from the Vice-President's chair to the Oval Office desk after the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on that fateful November day in 1963.

Woody Harrelson plays LBJ and the film takes us backwards and forwards in time from LBJ's unsuccessful run for the Democratic Party nomination through JFK's assassination and ultimately through the President's fight for an Equal Rights Bill.

The heart of the film comes from LBJ's battle within his own party. Robert Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) is hardly a fan of the foul-mouthed Texan who was hand-picked by brother John for the Vice-President position. The two will battle wills and disagree on almost all political talking points throughout their tenures. Also providing resistance to LBJ's forward thinking is Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) from the state of Georgia. Russell is portrayed as a racist that does not believe that individuals of color deserve the same rights and freedoms as all other Americans. LBJ does his best to try and win the trust of Russell and LBJ walks the thin line of keeping Russell in the fold before he abandons his friendship with the Senator in his attempt to fulfill the inroads JFK had made in his equal rights efforts prior to his assassination.

Harrelson is barely recognizable as the title character. The make-up is thick to ensure he resembles the former President. At times, the make-up is brilliant. The big ears and receding hairline of LBJ is captured expertly. But at other times – particularly in close-ups – the make-up looks like Harrelson was an extra in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy film.

LBJ is obviously the focus, but there is ample time given to JFK. And the assassination in Texas is captured with valuable attention to detail. The assassination is a key point in the life of LBJ and Rob Reiner takes the time to film it correctly (it was filmed in Texas exactly where the shooting took place). Jeffrey Donovan (televisions Burn Notice) plays Kennedy and brings subtle touch to the role not attempting to overdo the Boston drawl.

As with all other Reiner films, LBJ plays it safe. Audiences may learn a few things about the complicated man along the way. His foul mouth, how he would have meetings while sitting on the toilet, and his insecurity always believing that he was not loved by either his inner circle or his country (he did win re-election by the widest margin in American history). To my embarrassment, I didn't know that LBJ was in a procession car with JFK the day he was killed. But LBJ is no Lincoln. Where the Spielberg film was brilliantly written and a character study of both a political family and the process to which they battled, LBJ skims the surface like a rock skipping along calmer waters. Gritty, LBJ is not.

But safe entertainment can still be good entertainment and Reiner is surely a master at that craft. There is plenty of humor in the film to keep the characters interesting and keeping the story non-linear works to valued effect. LBJ will not be considered Rob Reiner's best work, but it is exactly what you can come to expect from the director. And slipping into a comfortable shoe can be so so comfortable.

28 out of 50 people found the following review useful:
Good, just not emotionally draining, 18 September 2016
6/10

We all remember the images of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Millions of gallons of oil spewed from the ocean floor for 87 days all captured and broadcast with a live internet feed. It was the worst oil spill in US history and BP oil has paid over $70 billion in fines and clean-up efforts.

But what you might not remember is that the spill occurred when the floating oil rig Deepwater Horizon suffered a catastrophic explosion which resulted in the loss of 11 crew lives. Director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) again teams up with actor Mark Wahlberg in an attempt to bring the fascinating and heroic story to audiences in the action-biopic Deepwater Horizon.

Wahlberg plays Mike Williams who was the chief electronics technician for Transocean on the Deepwater Horizon. Scheduled to work upon the oil rig for just a few weeks, Williams along with Transocean offshore installation manager Jimmy Harrell (played by Kurt Russell) quickly identify that BP has cut corners with safety measures in an attempt to hit production targets. "Money, money, money" one of the operators sings as his conclusion to BP's negligence.

Concerns represented by Williams and Harrell do little to convince on-site BP officials to radically change course and slow operations until all safety precautions have been taken. Their disregard resulted in a high pressure methane gas explosion that engulfed the rig platform. One hundred and five crew members were on board when the explosion took place at approximately 9:45PM CMT. Ninety-Four were rescued. Eleven crew were never found.

Wahlberg and Russell are both convincing in their respective roles. It might be difficult in theory to rationalize Wahlberg as an electronics technician, but the versatile actor convincingly plays a smart family-oriented blue-collar worker and the ultimate hero of the film.

Much of the first reel deals with BP's neglect and the conflict with the experienced workers aboard the rig. The unflattering digs are not discreet and we imagine that BP in no way will be exultant to see how Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand's screenplay shines the light on corporate greed. Berg does his best to try and describe the safety tests that took place aboard the vessel, but it's not until the first explosion that audiences will become engaged in the horrific ordeal.

Berg is no stranger to blowing things up. We all want to forget 2010's Battleship, but it likely did expose Berg to A-Level special effects and they are on full display here. The Deepwater Horizon replica is considered the largest set ever built and Berg most have took delight in completely devastating the platform with pyro techniques and theatre rattling explosions. Kurt Russell ran through fires and explosions in 1991's Backdraft, but things are turned up a notch here.

As an action film, Deepwater Horizon works wonderful well. For certain, audiences will not bored through the blasts and heroics of our protagonists. Where the film does falter is in its emotional appeal. Although we get a small glimpse into the home life of Mike Williams (his wife is played by Kate Hudson who acts with father Kurt Russell for the first time), the film doesn't pull at the heartstrings for the eleven souls lost that fateful April evening. They are memorialized before the end credits role, but they are lost in the shuffle of action packed sequences that consume the 107-minute running time of Deepwater Horizon.

The film is still important. It is important that we learn from our mistakes and that we remember the fallen. It's just unfortunate that Berg was unable to take a gallant story and turn it into something that acted as historical reference, casual entertainment and emotional groundwork that would evoke change in big industry standards.

Snowden (2016)
13 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
Overlong, 11 September 2016
6/10

Oliver Stone has not been relevant for some time. The three time Oscar winner owned the 80's. Salvador, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Talk Radio and Wall Street were some of the best the decade had to offer and cemented his name in film history. But by 1997's U-Turn., Stone had lost his magic. His next few films, Any Given Sunday, World Trade Center, Alexander and W. were critical bombs where overlong running times seemed to only further pat the directors own back with self-indulgence. And his last two films, Savage and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps were hardly anchors in what will eventually be a career DVD boxset.

Yet, when word began circulating that Stone was circling Snowden as his next film, many couldn't think of a director who would be better for the job. Based on the true events of former NSA/CIA employee Edward Snowden who became the center of equal praise and angst when he leaked thousands of classified documents to the press detailing the illegal surveillance tactics of the agencies, Stone attempts to tell the story of how Snowden eventually came to the crossroads in his life that lead him to be labelled as one of the biggest traitors in US history.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Snowden and his voice and mannerisms seem to capture the real life character to a tee. Stone based the biopic espionage thriller on books by Luke Harding and Anatoly Kucherena and switches back and forth in time between his revealing interview with Guardian reporters in 2013 to Snowden's attempts to join the military which was thwarted due to a degenerative leg injury. Snowden quickly goes from the hospital bed to the CIA and uses his cockiness and his innate ability to write code and interpret data.

Under the wing of protégé Corbin O'Brian (Rhys Ifans), Snowden quickly gets fast tracked through the ranks and travels the world in efforts of National Security. Along the way, Snowdwn meets Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) who will become his female companion traveling the globe to stand by her man even as she is kept in the dark as to exactly the job description to which Snowden is fulfilling.

The film's pulse pounding moment comes when Snowden attempts to copy and extract from the secure intelligence facility, the files that when published showed to the world how surveillance works outside the confines of both US and International Law for benefits that could never be accounted. Even with the result never in doubt, Stone is able to lay the groundwork for some tense moments leading to Snowden's escape.

This marks the second film in as many years where actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a real life character following his role as Phillippe Petit in Robert Zemeckis' under-appreciated The Walk. But this also marks the second time Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a real life character in movie that is inferior to the documentaries that threw both stories into the spotlight. Both Man on a Wire and last year's Oscar winner for documentary best picture, Citizenfour, were superior films than their dramatized big budget adaptations.

Yet neither is the fault of the young former 3rd Rock from the Sun actor. Snowden collapses on the shoulders of director Stone who doesn't seem to care how long his films run on. Snowden clocks in at 134 minutes and it feels every bit as long as the time suggests. Watching Snowden switch from job to job/country to country is downright hard on the tushy as it is neither interesting enough to keep audiences on the edge of the seats nor important enough to keep us comfortable in the effort. Instead, the film runs out of gas long before Snowden finally determines that the information to which he is responsible must be revealed for the world to judge on merit.

It is an opportunity lost. Laura Poitras' Citizenfour was far superior and clearer in its description of the facts. Stone's Snowden seems muddled in the director's inability to cut entire scenes in the editing room.

And while most of the cast does a comparable job with little to actually do (including Melissa Leo, Zachery Quinto and Tom Wilkinson), Ifans and a role given to straight-to-video artist Nicholas Cage seem miscast. Woodley is good as the love interest and life partner, but is overused and we can't but think her continued screen time was Stone's attempt at giving the female audience members something in which to relate.

So Snowden doesn't exactly make Oliver Stone relevant again. Nor do we think the film will ignite another firestorm over the merits of Snowden's efforts. Instead, it is a mildly interesting film that bores audiences lulling them into a hopeless want for the dates on the screen to catch up with real time.

Elle (2016/I)
16 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
Perfectly Cast Complex Character Study, 11 September 2016
7/10

From the late 1980's into the 1990's, Paul Veerhoven was one of the biggest names working behind the camera in Hollywood. Starting with 1987's Robocop and continuing through Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers, Veerhoven mastered the sex and violence ties that brought audiences out to his films in droves.

But 1995's Showgirls ended his run of good fortune. Considered by most to be one of the worst films of the 90's (it's not), Showgirls all but put Veerhoven in Guantanamo Hollywood prison. And since 2000, Veerhoven has directed but three films – Hollow Man, Black Book and Tricked.

With any fortune, Veerhoven will no longer take such a long sabbatical after his latest effort, Elle which was nominated for the Palme D'Or at Cannes and had its North American Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this past Friday.

Elle stars Isabelle Huppert as Michele, a corporate CEO of a small video-game design company who deals with the emotional effects of a rape that occurs before the screen even fades in with the open scene. When audiences do get more than the horrifying audio of the assault, we view Michele as she fights with a masked intruder on the floor of her home. Beaten and raped, Michele cleans up and continues with her life. A prior bad history with the police leaves her not wanting to report the crime and stoically she marches on with the rape but a blip on life's resume.

But as time slowly separates her from the initial attack, it is clear that the attacker is not yet finished with is prey. Michele begins to find her house violated again by the unknown assailant and text messages from the rapist only further the intrigue. But Michele is no victim. She fantasizes about another return visit from the attacker with a more favorable result. And through her emotions she remains consistent in behavior which comes to a shock to others when she reveals the details of the attack.

Making things more complex for Michelle is her circle of family and friends. A father doing time for being a serial murder, a mother who pays young studs for sex, a son who can't hold either a job or a girlfriend and her co-workers, some of which she is sexually active with, only complicate her delicate situation.

Although Elle might seem like a mystery thriller, it is more of a character driven drama than a 'can-you-guess-who's-behind-the-mask'. So much so that Veerhoven reveals the face behind the ski mask early in the second half of the film. The reveal is to both the audience and to Michelle and how she continues to explore events on her own terms is as fascinating as it is head-scratching.

Although Veerhoven has routinely had strong women roles in his films, nothing is on par with Huppert's Michelle. The film is carried by her strong and intoxicating performance and Huppert is remarkably able to keep us involved and rooting for a woman who is mean and calculating to all those associated with her path.

Events don't exactly zig and zag towards an ending but I doubt audiences will be able to stay ahead of the smart script in determining what might occur next to our protagonist.

Elle isn't perfect, but it is perfectly cast and executed. The story will leave most in the cold and it isn't a feel-good film even if everything does eventually work itself into a nicely bowed present before the end title card.


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