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Fanzine Harduin, Mathieu Kassovitz

“HAPPY END” My rating: C+ (Opens Feb 9  at the Glenwood Arts)

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It’s got several auteuristic moments and a bevy of solid performances.

But “Happy End” never decides what it’s all about.

At first glance one might assume that this latest effort from director Michael Haneke mostly avoids the extremes of human behavior that mark so many of his titles (“Funny Games,” “The White Ribbon,” “Amour”).   Of course even in a seemingly mundane setting Haneke finds undercurrents of perversion and corruption.

To the extent that “Happy End” has a central character it is 13-year-old Eve (Fanzine Harduin), a dour/stoic kid who in the film’s opening segment makes a cell-phone video of her hamster succumbing to an overdose of Mom’s antidepressants. Hmmm.

Shortly thereafter Eve’s mother dies after a long bout with mental illness and the girl relocates to the mansion occupied by her father, the surgeon Thomas Laurent (Mathieu Kassovitz), his second wife, their newborn son, and other members of the extended Laurent family.

Among these are Eve’s aunt Anne (Isabelle Huppert), who operates the clan’s construction business and is currently occupied with a fatal on-site accident.

Anne’s son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) — Eve’s cousin — is second-in-command and being groomed to take over the business, but it’s pretty obvious he lacks the head or the instincts for the job. He’s depressed.

Jean-Louis Trintignant

Hovering in the background  is wheelchair-bound grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who may be slipping into dementia and who has his heart set on suicide…though he can’t get anyone to cooperate in his quest for self-destruction.

There’s considerable ugliness percolating beneath the bourgeoise surface of the Laurent clan.  For example, the tech-savvy Eve discovers  that her Papa has been writing explicit erotic emails to a mistress. The girl accepts this with a shrug.  It’s pretty hard to shock her…she oozes the seen-it-all ennui  of a 50-year-old.

And Pierre seems to be totally losing it. He shows up at the wedding of his mother and her English beau (Toby Jones) with a half-dozen African refugees, demanding that they be given a table at the reception.

Haneke’s handling of all this is bleakly comic…but never actually funny.

Making “Happy End” worthwhile is the performance of young Harduin, whose Eve is both compelling and creepy. Whatever genetic sins the family possesses seem to have found their way into her small frame; she radiates a cool pathology that you can’t quite put a name to.  Let’s just say that in some regards “Happy End” bears a resemblance to “The Bad Seed.”

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Christian Bale

“HOSTILES” My rating: B- (Opens wide on Jan. 26)

133 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Westerns have always been a guilty pleasure (violent melodramas aimed at little boys and grown men who still think like little boys), but one cannot recall another Western that so openly oozes guilt as does “Hostiles.”

Written and directed by Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace,” “Black Mass”) and based on a 20-year-old manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart (“Missing” and three of the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan films), this revisionist oater unfolds in 1892 when the Indian wars are winding down and the frontier is giving way to civilization.

But not quite yet.

Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) rounds up renegade Indians.  His methods are matter-or-fact brutal. He nurses a slow-burning racial hatred fueled by the ugly deaths of comrades over the years and the atrocities he’s witnessed.

So he’s furious when for his last mission before retirement he’s ordered to accompany Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a dying Cheyenne war chief, from a New Mexico prison to his tribe’s hunting grounds in Montana. No sooner does their little expedition get out of sight of the fort than Joe claps irons on the old man, less to prevent escape than to humiliate the cancer-riddled warrior.

Wes Studi

Joe is, of course, a direct descendant of Ethan Edwards, the Indian-hating antihero of John Ford’s great Western “The Searchers.” Both films are about a character on a moral and geographical journey.

The difference is that everyone in “Hostiles” is being eaten alive by hate or regret.

Joe’s second-in-command is Sergeant Metz (Rory Cochrane), who’s been diagnosed with “melancholia” but more accurately is being consumed by his conscience after decades of dogged persecution of Native Americans.  Then there’s Corporal Woodsen (Jonathan Majors), a black buffalo soldier who found acceptance in the white man’s world by hunting down another minority.

A young lieutenant (Jesse Plemons) straight out of West Point is about to get a crash course in frontier justice. And then there’s the military convict being taken to another outpost for hanging after butchering a local family. An old colleague of Joe’s, the prisoner (Ben Foster, naturally) wonders why he’s going to swing when he’s seen Joe do worse.

Finally there’s Rosalie (Rosamund Pike), traumatized almost to insanity after witnessing her husband and children slaughtered by renegade Comanches in the brutal episode that opens the movie.

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Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer

“CALL ME BY YOUR NAME” My rating: A- (Opens wide on Jan. 19)

132 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Call Me By Your Name” could be categorized as a coming-out story, but that’s oversimplifying things… like saying “Citizen Kane” is a movie about the newspaper business.

Director Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love,” “A Bigger Splash”) and screenwriter  James Ivory (yes, the director of “Howards End,” “A Room with a View” and the Kansas City-lensed “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge”) are painting on an intimate canvas here, yet their adaptation of Andre Caiman’s novel is an epic of mood and emotion.

It’s about youth, sexual awakening, family love and the warm glow of summers past. It’s enough to make you swoon.

Set in the summer of 1983, “Call Me…” chronicles a lazy but significant six weeks for 17-year-old Elio (an unbelievably good Timothee Chalamet).  The son of an American father and an Italian mother, he’s been raised in Italy with all the intellectual stimulation he can handle. He’s smart, multilingual and maybe some sort of musical prodigy.

Enter Oliver (Armie Hammer), the American grad student hired by Elio’s professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) for a summer of research on Roman statuary. Oozing a big grin, Yankee self-confidence and nonchalant studliness, Oliver makes a big wave among the town’s young women.

Initially this visitor strikes Elio as arrogant. But Oliver also stirs something else in Elio. Not that Oliver seems at all receptive…if anything he appears oblivious.

Interestingly enough, it’s Elio’s father and mother (Amira Casar) who first notice the slow-burn sexual sizzle that’s been introduced to their household…not that they comment on it directly. But their sidelong looks speak volumes. (They must be the most understanding movie parents of all time. Atticus Finch could take lessons from them.)

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Daniel Day-Lewis

“PHANTOM THREAD” My rating: B (Opens Jan. 19)

130 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Phantom Thread” is an exquisite love story.

“Phantom Thread” is a cynical black comedy.

That both of these statements are accurate suggests the complex mix of ideas, emotions and impulses percolating through Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film.

That “Phantom Thread” also features what is allegedly Daniel Day-Lewis final screen performance (he and Anderson collaborated earlier on “There Will Be Blood”) makes it a must-see event.

Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is the premiere dress designer in ’50s London. He caters to the rich and titled; his fashions are elegant and controversy-free.

His effete manner and rep as a lifelong bachelor might suggest to some that the graying Reynolds is gay, but they’d be wrong. Reynolds enjoys women on the physical level.  In fact, as the film begins he indicates over breakfast to  his sister-collaborator-facilitator  Cyril (Leslie Manville) that his current paramour has worn out her welcome.

It falls to Cyril to deliver the bad news and escort the rejected young woman from the premises; a great artist like Reynolds cannot be bothered with such mundane duties.

“Marriage would make me deceitful,” he says, as if using and discarding women somehow makes him honest.

Anderson’s screenplay follows Reynolds on a side trip to his family’s seaside cottage.  At a local tearoom he encounters  Alma (Vicky Krieps), an Eastern European immigrant waiting tables. She’s a woman with a real physical presence, not one of those wraithlike models he’s used to dealing with, and she knows nothing about Reynolds or his work.

Her lack of guile, non-glamorous appearance and forthright emotional bearing appeal hugely to the jaded dress designer. He brings her to London, installs her in his household, looks to her as his creative muse  and, finally, marries her: “I feel like I’ve been looking for your for a very long time.” Continue Reading »

Robert Forster, John Hawkes

“SMALL TOWN CRIME”  My rating: C+ 

91 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Ex-cop Mike Kendall is a “shit heel” according to one of the other characters in “Small Town Crime.” It’s hard to disagree with that assessment.

Mike is an alcoholic who’s usually wasted by noon. He drives his souped-up car like an irresponsible teen; one morning he awakens to find his ride parked in the front yard amongst the wreckage of a picket fence.

Mike has been jobless since the unfortunate incident that led to the death of a fellow patrolman. To keep getting unemployment benefits he goes through the motions of applying for jobs, but should a prospective employer actually show an interest, Mike scotches the deal by confessing to being a hopeless drunk.

The good news is that Mike, as played by the great John Hawkes, isn’t a mean drunk. He loved being a cop and has a hopeless dream of once again wearing a badge. And despite his maddeningly childlike behavior, he’s just charming enough that you can’t hate him.

This noir drama from siblings Echo and Ian Nelms finds Mike thrust back into the game when he discovers a young woman dying in a roadside ditch. His cop instincts kick in, and despite warnings from his old colleagues on the force, Mike starts poking around into her death.

Posing as a private detective, he contacts the girl’s rich grandfather (Robert Forster), who is infuriated by the cops’ sloppy handling of the case (“To them she’s just another toe tag”). Despite his granddaughter’s self-destructive history of drug addiction and prostitution, he’s ready to spend big bucks to find out how and why she died.

Mike’s dogged digging eventually reveals a murderous conspiracy.  Before it’s over, other young prostitutes are being murdered and Mike is himself a target.  Not to mention his “sister” (Octavia Spencer), with whom he grew up in foster care, and her husband (Anthony Anderson) and their kids.

 

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Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Tom Hanks

“THE POST” My rating: B+ 

115 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Steven Spielberg’s powers as a storyteller are so secure that not even the miscasting of one of “The Post’s” two leads can do much damage to the narrative.

This sprawling effort — it begins with a firefight in Vietnam and winds down with a firestorm over the Second Amendment — hits the ground running and rarely slows down for a breath. It’s like a Spielberg master class in taking a complicated story and telling it cleanly and efficiently.

And like other major movies about real-world journalism — “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” especially — “The Post” could hardly be more timely.  With a president who shows every indication that he’d love to roll back freedom of the press, this film is so relevant it hurts.

The subject, of course, is the 1971 scandal over the Pentagon Papers.  That massive study, commissioned by LBJ’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, looked at American involvement in Vietnam going back to the Truman administration. It revealed that the experts had always known a land war in Vietnam was unwinnable — but had plowed ahead anyway, sacrificing billions of dollars and countless lives on what amounted to political face-saving.

The papers showed that the Johnson administration had systematically lied to the public and to Congress so as to continue the war.

McNamara suppressed the study; the public only learned of its existence when one of its authors, Rand Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), made an illegal copy of the top secret document and passed it on to The New York Times.

Today  The Washington Post sits at or near the top of American newspapers (thanks to its reporting on the Watergate Scandal in 1972-’73).  But in 1971 The Post was at best a regional paper…and not a very good one.

Its new editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), was pushing it toward greatness, but still felt himself outclassed by the journalistic aces at The Times. He was particularly concerned about rumors that The Times was about to scoop The Post (and every other news outlet) with a major story.

That big story was the Pentagon Papers. No sooner had the first in a series of articles been published than a federal judge — at the behest of the Nixon administration — enjoined The Times from printing additional material.

Bradley’s Post, however, was under no gag order. Working back channels Bradley got his hands on another copy of the papers and prepared to publish even more revelations on the pages of The Post.

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Dick Van Dyke, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam

“WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH” My rating: B+

85 minutes | No MPAA rating

Most of us remember Rose Marie, who died last week at the age of 94, as the wise-cracking comedy writer Sally Rogers on TV’s “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

But that was only one stage in a show-biz career that lasted nine decades and was crammed with dozens of firsts.

“Wait for Your Laugh,” Christina Tucker and Jason Wise’s loving documentary, covers Rose Marie’s remarkable life, in the process delivering a pretty comprehensive look at the evolution of entertainment in the 20th century.

Based on a series of filmed interviews with the still-sharp-as-a-tack Rose Marie — as well as with colleagues and friends like Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Tim Conway and Peter Marshall — the film reveals a remarkable life.

Rose Marie Mazzetta became a child star at age 4, winning a talent contest by belting out songs in the style of Sophie Tucker.  This led to radio appearances as Baby Rose Marie. When listeners refused to believe that a child could sing like that, she hit the vaudeville circuit in its final days. Audiences couldn’t deny their eyes and ears.

Al Capone and other gangsters (“the boys”) treated little Rose Marie as an adopted daughter, offering protection. They could’t protect her from her father/manager, who siphoned off millions before she was old enough to declare her emancipation. (The old man was arrested 128 times for violation of child labor laws.) Continue Reading »