Elle, directed by Paul Verhoeven

Review by Mike Fishman

Elle, directed with dark flair by Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall), is unsettling in more ways than one might expect. Most viewers going in will already know that the film opens with a rape. In the opening scene Isbabelle Huppert’s Michele, a Parisian woman heading a video game company, is being attacked by a masked intruder and the brutality of the rape, conveyed more by sound than visuals, announces a film that will ask much of its audience. And indeed, as the film unfolds and we witness Michele (played note-perfect by the seasoned Huppert) interacting with her son who curses her, her ex-husband whom she alternately turns to for emotional support and casually takes a crowbar to his parked car, and the next-door neighbor with whom Michele instigates a game of footsy at a dinner while he is seated next to his prim wife, a moral ambiguity emerges that leads us to question her character in ways that are downright provocative.

Verhoeven, whose oeuvre includes Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone’s infamously uncrossed legs, has previously presented characters and situations that are not what they seem to be (or at least not what we expect them to be), but in Elle he wades deep into the territory of uncomfortable humor more associated with filmmakers such as Todd Solondz, who in Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse, dare us to laugh at things we dare not, as did Jody Hill in the twisted mall-cop comedy Observe and Report. Though Michele appears to be haunted by the attack (which we return to in flashbacks that give deeper glimpses into the event), she urges her video game developing team to make the game they are working on more violently sexual and at a late point in the film after she has identified her attacker, turns the tables on him emotionally, urging him to hurt her. This has the absurd effect of making him recoil and proclaim that that’s not how this is supposed to work.

Michele’s moral ambiguity, though, is evident early on in the film. Moments after she is attacked and taking a restorative bubble bath, a disturbing red blood stain surfaces through the bubbles, which she seems more fascinated by than repulsed. Later, during one of the flashbacks, she admonishes her cat (who naturally just sat by and watched as any cat would), that the cat could have at least scratched him. Such humor pervades the film, reaching its darkest point when Michele, having crashed in her car, phones her rapist to rescue her, unable to get anyone else on the phone. There’s something remarkable about a scene in which a man, who has been recognized by his victim as her attacker, is helping to extricate her from her crashed car even as we see a bandage on his hand from where she stabbed him during their latest violent encounter.

Why wouldn’t she just call the police? A secondary plot details the troubled history of her childhood, when her father went on a rampage and murdered a number of their neighbors, including women and children, then set fire to his own house, a news clips from the time showing a disheveled young Michele in the wreckage of her home. Although Michele appears to be an innocent caught in her father’s guilt, the question of whether she participated in the house fire remains and, in any case, she is occasionally treated as a criminal by strangers who recognize her simply by virtue of being the daughter of the murderous monster. When Michele, who has not seen her father since he was sent to prison, finally decides to face him, she arrives at the prison only to be told her father died the night before by hanging himself. The man could no more face his daughter willingly than she could him. The film would feel grim if it were not for the dark humor, and could easily have felt forced in lesser hands, Huppert managing a tight wire act of a wronged woman deserving of sympathy yet deflecting pity with her character’s ruthless determination and uncertain ethics.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Dependent’s Day, directed by Michael David Lynch

Dependent's Day Trailer from Michael Lynch on Vimeo.

Award-Winning Indie Film, Dependent’s Day Now Available on Cable, Satellite, and coming soon to Vudu. Director Michael David Lynch lands distribution with his breakout relationship comedy feature Dependent’s Day.

Los Angeles, CA – December 5, 2016 — The breakout indie film, Dependents Day that launched in the festival circuit earlier this year to much acclaim is now available on demand everywhere and coming soon to Vudu. “I am elated that this film has resonated so well with audiences of all ages in the film festival circuit,” said director Michael David Lynch. “You never know when you are making a movie how people are going to respond to it. It was incredible to have our limited theatrical release in October and I’m thrilled that now audiences across the North America will be able to enjoy this film because it is now available everywhere!.”

About Dependent’s Day
Claimed as a ‘dependent’ by his successful breadwinning girlfriend Alice, Cam struggles to prove himself as he stumbles through different jobs and life’s obstacles in the hopes to live out his Hollywood dream and finally rise to the occasion. Dependent’s Day is a hilarious, heartfelt, authentic relationship comedy about the adventures of being in love and making it work.

The film is unlike most other Hollywood romantic comedies because it has a semblance of reality and strong female characters that are endearing throughout the movie. “I had lots of strong women in my life as I was growing up so I really couldn’t write this film without including that component,” said Lynch. “I wanted to write something that reflected my experience and see if it resonated with the audiences. Apparently, the fans enjoy intelligent funny women in roles too.”

About Director Michael David Lynch:
Growing up in Ann Arbor Michigan, Michael found his love for cinema as a projectionist, getting an inside peek at all that film had to offer. He followed this passion to Chicago IL, where he studied film at Columbia College Chicago. It was here that Lynch conceived the idea for Burden, a massive science fiction film of epic proportions that would give any big Hollywood blockbuster a run for its money. After graduating, Mike headed for Los Angeles, where he hit the ground running, working on huge Hollywood movies such as: Inception, Die Hard 4, Ironman 2, and Transformers 2. Ever determined to leave his mark on the medium, he went on to produce several successful films including: Drop, Between Us and This Thing with Sarah. Today, he makes his long-awaited feature film directorial debut with two incredible projects: Dependent’s Day and Victor Walk. Two different films that cover very different territory showing the versatility and heart of a talented director who is sure to keep telling stories. Lynch has had the privilege of collaborating with tons of amazing actors on Dependent’s Day, his debut feature narrative film where he served as Director, Writer, Producer, Cinematographer and editor. Dependent’s Day recently won the Audience Award Narrative Feature Comedy at the Cinequest Film Festival on March 12th, 2016, and Best Comedy Feature at South Dakota Film Festival on September 24th, 2016.

Behind the Scenes link: https://vimeo.com/192861223

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Delusion, directed by Christopher Di Nunzio

Delusion – Official Trailer from Christopher Di Nunzio on Vimeo.

Synopsis
(Short):
Three years after the death of Frank’s wife a mysterious woman appears. As their attraction grows Frank struggles with reality and his loss. He tries to start over not knowing his choices could lead him to his own downfall.

Long:
Frank Parrillo received a letter from his wife who died three years ago. With help from his nephew Frank decides he’s ready to start over. Soon after a mysterious woman appears who seems like a kindred spirit as they both battle internal issues. Still despite premonitions from a psychic and a man who Frank’s not sure is even real he chooses to move forward as he confronts the demons in his head. His choice could ultimately lead him to a darker reality.

Delusion has been picked up for distribution by Cinema Epoch and is now available to buy or rent in the US, Canada & UK at Amazon. It is free with Prime. Delusion will be released on more outlets soon.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/145228349

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4113846/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

http://www.christopherdinunzio.com
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https://twitter.com/ChrisDiNunzio

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Prophet, directed by Rich Robinson

Film synopsis: A Man, possessing only the clothes on his back and the hat on his head, travels among different settings from railroad tracks to industrial factories, to run down neighborhoods in a quest to express his inner thoughts through poetry and spoken word. While on his journey he is challenged three times by a Stranger; his own personal EGO who tempts him to question his choices forcing the Man to ponder what measures a human being.

Director’s statement: In spite of the current social and political landscape on both a statewide and national scale, my team created a short film titled prophet that confronts and diminishes the human ego and how the ego is a powerful persuader on all social and political issues/injustices. Through spoken word we’ve created a message of love through poetry in motion and our piece is greatly influenced by such incredible people such as Saul Williams, the late Maya Angelou, Eckhart Tolle, and youtube sensation Prince Ea.

This is an up lifting short film, a polarizing project that challenges the audience to think and by having the main character speak to the audience, engage them to come along his journey; a journey that through the use of poetry challenges the Ego and puts social issues into a perspective that is neither demoralizing or glorifying but instead is about BEING in the PRESENT.

Our Instagram is @prophetshortfilmseries and hash tag is #prophetshortfilm.

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Equity directed by Meera Menon

Review by Karim Malak

How Women ‘Make it’ in Wall Street

(Warning: spoiler alert.) In Equity, Anna Gaun plays Naomi Bishop – a lead advisor at a Private Equity (PE) firm that is handling a major Initial Public Offering (IPO) for a tech privacy company. The film shows the inner workings of Wall Street in a drastically different light. Written by Amy Fox, Alysia Reiner, and Sara Megan Thomas and directed by Meera Menon, one immediately understands that this new angle involves the question of women in Wall Street; something that remains an omission in most mainstream Hollywood films, if not all.

The plot centers round Naomi as she attempts to handle this major new deal and ‘make it rain’ in order to land a new promotion. Despite being the lead advisor for the firm, she is not promoted and her boss makes it explicit that top management doubt her. Naomi then sets out to make this deal the biggest Wall Street has ever seen. In the process Naomi displaces her frustration onto her young assistant Erin Manning (played by Sara Megan Thomas) who is also up for promotion and so has to hide the fact that she is pregnant in order to get it. She is caught dumping her alcoholic beverage in the bathroom sink and Naomi asks her how far along she is pregnant. Naomi tells Erin that she needs to suck it up, telling her not to upset their tech company client CEO ‘Ed’. A typical bro who dresses informally for his business meetings – reminiscent of Mark Zuckerberg’s lifestyle – Samuel Roukin as Ed plays the part assigned to him well, coming on hard to poor Erin who has to lightly nudge him when he forces himself on her whilst making out. Throughout the movie one cannot shake off that it is a reminder of Facebook’s own failed IPO. In fact, at one point in the movie as Naomi learns her Wall Street boyfriend – Michael Connor played by James Purefoy – is conspiring against her; she states that she is not going to be like Facebook, alluding to its failed IPO.

The irony of how Michael gets this insider trading information cannot be missed. As Naomi’s assistant, Erin is almost about to break because of all the pressure. She comes looking for her at Michael’s apartment but Naomi is not there. Michael starts to sweet talk her, getting the ball rolling and pouring her a drink. He uses Erin’s frustration of not getting a clear answer from Naomi about if she will get the promotion or not, and gets Erin to divulge the weaknesses of the tech company’s position, spilling the beans on a key weakness discovered during due diligence.

In the midst of this, Samantha, a lead investigator at the Security Exchanges Commission (SEC), investigates Michael Connor and learns he is seeing Naomi. She tries to muscle in on Naomi for information, an old classmate. As the plot thickens and revolves around these three women (Naomi, her assistant Erin, and the SEC investigator Samantha), one sees that in Wall Street it is not only a question of the top executive making it harder for the younger one, but that it carries a certain sting to it when it is done to a woman and displaced onto another much like how Naomi does that to Erin. What is new about Equity, isn’t that it brings women into the story of Wall Street. But that it shows that in this structure of money making, the injustices done to women are internalized such that these white women do it to other women just as much.

This is perhaps the one dimension missing in Wall Street, how these white women choose to be victims but that others do not even have that option and for them trying to change Wall Street is a foregone conclusion. Rather than aiming to ask why equal opportunity hiring or affirmative action perpetuates Wall Street’s chauvinism, white women are content to being equally exploited with their male colleagues. In the name of equality white women on Wall Street conveniently forget why they are the only recipients of affirmative action policies, rather than other women who are not white. For them It is not so much about changing Wall Street to being less exploitative, or less patriarchal, but about having their place in it at the expense of non-white women. Having internalized the Wall Street hierarchy and its rules all things go, and when one is a woman it becomes markedly different and more painful for women to work inside, but that in the name of equal opportunity these women have an onus on them to ‘make it’, to demonstrate that it is an equal space, in the process accepting to hide their marriage, or that the magnanimous young hot-headed ‘bro’ may inappropriately come on to the poor assistant. Such is the ‘cost’ of doing business and ‘making it’. Naomi tries to ‘make it’ against all odds and in the process she tramples over other women and displaces what was done to her to others as part of a ritual. Samantha the SEC investigator who comes so close to unraveling the insider trading plot in the end fails and accepts a Wall Street job.

Samantha the SEC investigator who comes so close to unraveling the insider trading plot in the end fails and accepts a Wall Street job. When she is asked in her interview why she wants the job she gives a generic answer about wanting to spend more time with her family and her female partner, but seeing the interviewer’s surprise she changes her answer. She gives the same one the movie opens with, the answer Naomi gave. Women should not feel dirty that they want to make money, or that making money is a bad thing. It is OK to love money.

That is precisely the story of Equity, how in the name of making it one gives up their dreams and instead learns to love to make money, hurt others and do what was done to them to the next unsuspecting incoming young executive, even if they are a woman. In fact, especially if they are a woman so that they learn the ropes of Wall Street faster.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.