Thursday, December 15, 2016

Elle and Short Comments on Moana

                          Apprentices of War Preparing for the Hard Rain

                                                               Review by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                    Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
A Parisian woman who’s co-founder of a video game company is raped but seemingly unperturbed about it except for enhancing her home security and buying a few defensive weapons; we learn that her distain for reporting this crime to the police is a result of the ugly public reputation that she earned related to her father’s mass murder spree when she was just a child.
What Happens: We open on a black screen with sounds of a struggle coming from that darkness, followed by a shot of a cat watching something which turns out to be Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) being raped in her home in broad daylight by a guy in black wearing a ski mask.  After he leaves, though, she seems not shaken at all, just disgusted as she sweeps up the broken bric-a-brac from the violent encounter (he hit her a lot to maintain control), although she sleeps that night with a hammer.  When next we see her we better understand her fierce personality as she’s arguing with young male programmers at the video game company she co-founded with friend/ business partner Anna (Anne Consigny); ironically, the main hassle is with Kurt (Lucas Prisor) who’s upset that the interface of their long-delayed-new-project isn’t as robust as it should be while she focuses on the on-screen-scene of a monster having sex with a young woman from behind, his long tail apparently also being his penis (she wants the woman to be more voluptuous, the sex more intense while Kurt dismisses her as ill-prepared for this industry with her literary background; she ends the confrontation by reminding him who owns the company).  Michèle does take the precaution of having her locks changed but it's to no avail because on an afternoon when she opens a tall window to let her cat back inside the rapist attacks again, in the same violent fashion.  

 This time she does admit the assault but casually as she dines with Anna, her husband Robert (Christian Berkel)—with whom Anna’s having an affair, even though at times it doesn’t amount to much, as with a scene in their business place where he simply pulls the blinds shut in his office and starts taking off his pants while she gets a small trash can, presumably as a receptacle for the semen she’s about to dislodge from him (you know, if Bill Clinton had used that tactic his 2nd Presidential term would probably have been a lot less troublesome for him)—and Michèle’s ex-husband, Richard (Charles Berling).  They’re horrified to find out about both the attack and her unwillingness to report it to the police, but all she does to further her defenses is to buy some pepper spray and a small axe (neither of which are ever handy enough to use on her attacker).

 As events in this sordid story progress, we find out all sorts of things about Michèle’s life: she has ongoing disputes with her mother, Irène (Judith Magre), who has interests in younger men such as her current stud, Ralf (Raphaël Lenglet), for whom Michèle has no respect; she’s also at odds with son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) whose pregnant girlfriend, Josie (Alice Isaaz), is bitchy and domineering, especially concerning the cost of their intended apartment with Michèle needed to finance this upgrade in their living conditions; then she’s concerned that Kurt is her rapist after a nasty video clip goes viral around the office with 
Michèle’s smiling head superimposed on the woman being humped by the monster (leading her to assign more trustworthy-employee-Kevin [Arthur Mazet] to hack into every employee’s computer to see what he can find [he also helps her with target practice, but she never buys a gun]); despite her steely demeanor she’s not sitting idly by waiting for the rapist to show up again because as she sees someone seemingly lurking in a car outside of her home one night she sneaks up from behind, smashes the driver’s window with her axe, then unloads the pepper spray only to find out it’s Richard trying to watch out for her (she’s somewhat appreciative as she helps wash the sting from his eyes but also caustic about his new relationship with a much younger woman, Hélène [Vimala Pons]); she’s intrigued enough with her new, younger neighbor, Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), that she watches him through binoculars while he and wife Rebecca (Virginie Efira) put large Nativity statues in their yard at Christmastime (we find out that Rebecca’s a devout Catholic) while Michèle masturbates just looking at this studly-banker (later they’re at a  Christmas Eve dinner party where she uses her bare foot under the table to massage his crotch; he doesn’t seem to mind because in an even-later-scene as the wind picks up he comes to her home to help pull her shutters shut, they almost embrace at that point, but he quickly leaves).

 In the most revelatory news of all, though, we find out why Michèle’s angry that Mom wants her to visit her father, Georges Leblanc, in jail, as well as why the daughter’s so wary of police, because when she was only 10 he went on a unprovoked-murder-attack throughout their neighborhood, killing 27, then got her help in burning various home items in their fireplace until the cops arrived, leading to a famous soot-covered-newspaper-shot of her, implying her complicity in his crimes.

 As all of this complexity progresses (I had some mini-flashlight-trouble while taking notes so I had to just finish after the house lights came up, but even though I was well half-past the running time by that point I still had a tremendous amount of plot detail to remember, so if you see this film be prepared for a lot to keep up with, even as you’re reading the subtitles—assuming that’s not an automatic deal-breaker in deciding to buy a ticket—unless you’re fluent in French) we find that Kevin’s the one who created the in-house-video (out of his lust for Michèle) but it was stolen from his computer, then shared as a cruel joke by a co-worker (Kevin’s not fired when he drops his pants, as ordered, to confirm he’s not also the rapist, as he’s not circumcised while the attacker is); Vincent and Josie have their baby but it looks like their African friend, Omar (Stéphane Bak), to everyone but Vincent, who’s later thrown out of the apartment by Josie in anger over his abrupt decision to quit his job just because his car’s in for repair and he doesn’t care to commute on public transportation; after the rapist leaves a message on Michèle’s laptop in her bedroom and a semen squirt on her bed (along with her fantasizing about killing him) she’s attacked again, but this time she stabs the assailant’s hand with scissors, then pulls off his mask to find that it’s Patrick, yet she still says nothing to anyone about it; her mother dies from a stroke with a last wish for Michèle to visit her father so she notifies the prison she’ll be coming the next day (after his parole request was denied) only for him to commit suicide by hanging that night (seemingly in shame at having to see her again after the pox he's put on her life); driving away from the prison Michèle’s distracted by a reporter's phone call, along with a deer jumping in front of her car, causing her to crash, then when she can’t reach anyone else she calls Patrick who comes to her rescue; she also decides to break off the affair with Robert, although she asserts that to him only after they’ve had sex yet again.

In case you think I seem to be too enamored with Isabelle
(attractive as she is), it's just that she's in
almost every publicity photo I can find for this film.
 This complicated plot begins to wrap up when Michèle and Vincent run into Patrick one night in a supermarket; he says Rebecca’s out of town on a religious pilgrimage to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela leading to an invitation for dinner where Vincent drinks too much and falls asleep as the oddly-confounding-sexual-pair go to the cellar as she makes herself available to him but he can only get excited with a rape scenario where he’s slapping her a lot (at least he no longer needs the mask as they go through another bout of this “intimacy”).  Finally, the company's video game is launched to great success, but at the celebration Michèle tells Anna about the affair with Robert, with Anna’s fury mostly directed at her husband; meanwhile, Michèle gives Vincent her car keys, telling him that Patrick will drive her home.  On the way, she tells Patrick she’s decided to confess all to the police, then goes into her home with him quickly following (masked again) to initiate another violent rape (admittedly, there’s no other kind, but he intensifies it with much more physical assault than necessary to force her compliance, which she vainly tries to resist).  The end result’s different this time, though, because Vincent comes in, sneaks up on them with a fireplace log, then clobbers Patrick who soon dies from the blow, so when the police are actually summoned the story of heroic rescue goes to Vincent while Michèle admits only a recent interest in this neighbor, nothing of their actual history.  Concluding all this are scenes where Vincent and Josie have reconciled, along with Michèle seeing Rebecca packing up to move away, with the calm neighbor thanking Michèle for indulging her husband’s proclivity—implying that she knew all about their rape situation—followed by a final scene at the cemetery where Michèle’s bringing some flowers to put near her parents adjoining-mausoleum-chambers (Dad’s is defaced) when Anna shows up to say she’s kicked Robert out but now needs a new place of her own, which she suggests should be with Michèle.

So What? In French “elle” can mean such words as “she,” “her,” or “herself,” depending on the context of a specific sentence; in this case I guess it could also be a bit of a pun, connecting to a nickname for Michèle (although this generally-fierce-woman doesn’t seem like the sort who’d tolerate nicknames), but it appears more probable that this film’s title is about an assertive “she” who not only refuses to be a victim of the terrible abuses which are often committed against her but also demonstrates her own proclivities that, we'd find in Huppert’s specific case, conjure up another complex character from her past, Erika Kohut, in The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001) where her cruel, sadistic behavior toward her students is balanced by her own intense (but never actualized) desires of masochism, aimed at both her own wish to be dominated in bondage as well as humiliate her mother (whom she lives with) as an affront to the older woman that her talented daughter could have such perverse needs.  Certainly, Michèle could be interpreted as perverse as well, given that she’s not so repulsed by the repeated rapes and other intrusions on her privacy that she’s willing to continue having sex with Patrick even though he can only do it in his angry, violent, domineering manner, yet her situation is also ambiguously-complicated for us in that she does take measures to protect herself against her attacker before she knows who he is just as she ultimately chooses to avenge herself on him in response to the cruelty that he’s frequently forced upon her.

Paul Verhoeven directing Isabelle Huppert
 Regarding the ambiguity of this character, director Verhoeven, in the press notes, says that: “It’s a story, not real life, nor a philosophical vision of women! This particular woman acts that way, which doesn’t mean that all women will or should act that way. But Michèle does! And my job consisted above all in directing this story in the most real, interesting and credible way possible. […] One scene captures the contradictory emotions we feel while watching: Michèle’s confession of her father’s murders to Patrick. We are in turn horrified, amused, skeptical, touched... Yes, the way she tells the whole gruesome story with a smile... That scene wasn’t in the novel. [Screenwriter] David Birke wrote it and Isabelle immediately understood that it needed to be played lightly to string us along. You can’t work out if she’s emotional or fooling with Patrick. Very few actresses could do what she does. And in the background, there’s the music of the mass. Finally, in similar tones, the film’s score takes over almost up to Michèle’s ‘Not bad, huh?’ Then we go back to the music from the mass, whose gravity and solemnity give the scene an emotional dimension that contrasts with Isabelle’s lighthearted tone.”  Regarding her unique character, Huppert says: “She is many and varied: cynical, generous, endearing, cold, commendable, independent, dependent, perspicacious. She is anything but sentimental; she is pummeled by events, but she doesn’t crack. Verhoeven held firm on that, without trying to whittle away at our fundamental position. You could rely on him for that. That’s the point of the character—her strength, originality and modernity. She never behaves like a victim, even when she has every reason to do so: victim first of her mass murderer father and then of her rapist. Guilt, submitting to events—so many notions that it is hard to rid from female characters. Even if they are strong women, they always have that hanging over them in the movies: the temptation to veer toward emotion, which turns out to be phony—a slightly gooey sentimentalism.”
 However, it may be difficult for audiences to appreciate such inner-diversity in Michèle, given what can be interpreted as her nonchalance toward being raped, a reason why Verhoeven (as he discusses in the interview within the Related Links section far below in this review) decided against an initial idea of setting this story in America because he found little interest from U.S. studios and female actors in presenting this story as it was scripted (adapted by from the novel Oh …, by Phillipe Djian), even though it meant making his first film in France which generated “fear—fear of the unknown, fear of diving into a different culture and different language [… but] that was great because when you launch yourself into the unknown, you become extremely creative and inspired,” with a chief reason for this choice of venue being Huppert’s interest in the role: “Around six months in, [producer Saïd Ben] Saïd said to me, ‘Why are we fighting to make the movie in the US? It’s a French novel, Isabelle Huppert is keen to do it—we’re stupid!’ And he was right. I realize now that I could never have made this movie in the US, with this level of authenticity […] Isabelle is fearless.  Nothing is a problem for her.  She will try anything, she is phenomenally bold.”  Maybe a viewer’s understanding of a broad-minded-French-society’s-tolerance of such story aspects as Michèle’s range of sexual interests, her ambiguity about involving herself further with the police and the press, Anna’s willingness to continue her friendship with Michèle after breaking up with Robert (as if the affair were entirely his fault, but there’s also the hint of a relationship between these women, as noted by Verhoeven: “When we shot that [final] scene, they ending up kissing, but it was too much and not at all in the style of the movie, which never says things explicitly […] you have to play on nuances and doubt, and never throw an intrusion into audiences’ faces.”) will make this film’s contents easier to at least contemplate in retrospect, but it’s a constant challenge here to just keep calmly accepting what you see on screen.
Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Despite Elle’s strong showing at the critical consensus sites (Rotten Tomatoes offers 89% positive comments, even Metacritic—normally with much lower numbers—surprisingly gives an average score of that same 89%; more details if you like in the Related Links section), there are some reviewers who’re not impressed with what they saw in Elle, such as Toronto’s Kate Taylor (from The Globe and Mail) who says: “In the end, Michèle’s entire persona and all her actions are a reaction to the behaviour of the men around her and her character becomes flatter and less intriguing the more her own sociopathy is exposed. [...] For all its cleverness, Elle suffers, like many a thriller, from an unmasking that proves less intriguing than the original mystery and, in its misogyny and its misanthropy, the film ultimately proves less interesting than it believes itself to be. Mainly, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth long after the credits roll. Like Michèle herself, Elle is a nasty piece of work.”  However, others are supportive, like Ty Burr (of The Boston Globe): “Huppert is phenomenal in her most unnerving performance since Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher.” Michèle is always in control, even when she appears to invite further abuse, and her sangfroid — the calm reptile eye she turns toward all the men in the movie (even the ones she desires) — drives them crazy with confusion. Her attacker has a twisted narrative in his head that needs to be followed, but what happens when the victim starts writing the script? [...] Maybe Michèle is a sociopath. Maybe she just grew up with one. That’s one of the puzzles with which Verhoeven teases us. So many of his movies have featured strong, smart, damaged women who visit further damage on lesser mortals, usually men, in a spirit of malice and amusement. They’re survivor’s tales, made with sinew and black humor. “Elle” may be the purest distillation of his worldview yet, and it’s a terrifying thrill.”

 Now, is Burr’s reaction just an example of male voyeurism, playing into the horrid fantasy of some men that women desire rape as their expression of a man’s unbridled-attraction (despite the reality of the act as a dehumanizing display of power)? Well, certainly, I would assume not (along with not intending to imply that about any other 
male—or female for that matter—who has a positive response to this film) because I realize that the intention of the group of filmmakers (and the lead female actor) here is not to any way soften the horror of rape (a sordid-degradation for Michèle as well, as shown by her own fantasy of killing her attacker followed by her actual plot of administering vigilante justice to Patrick when she decides she no longer wants this aspect of her life to manifest itself, possibly as some sort of internally-imposed-punishment for her father’s crimes or as a desire to further her already-broad-range of sexual activities) but rather to show how difficult it is to assume universal responses to a series of situations that seem to call for definitive judgments (rape even when the perpetrator is a decent human being otherwise, an affair that insults a long-time-friendship, a young-adult-coupling based on lack of interaction and mutual-respect, a working environment where shocking acts are tolerated for the sake of a hoped-for-product’s-success, the personal pain of a daughter forever associated with her father’s homicidal rage).  This is a difficult film to watch much of the time, probably even harder to justify to someone who’s repelled by any of its various controversial situations.  Yet, like The Piano Teacher (from further back in Huppert’s illustrious career), this powerful project is difficult to dismiss just because it’s consistently distasteful (intentionally so, akin to Nymphomaniac  [Lars von Trier, 2013; reviews in our March 20 and April 3, 2014 postings]) so, whether or not I’m judged as perverse for being enthralled by it, I stand by my 4 stars for Elle (but you might know that I tend to like difficult films, evidenced by my rare-4½ star-response to Nocturnal Animals [Tom Ford; review in our December 8, 2016 posting], along with 4 stars for Nymphomaniac and my strong consideration for 4½ stars in my 1st-ever-review for this blog, Melancholia [von Trier, 2011; see our December 12, 2011 posting]).

 I’m not unaware of Elle’s lurid implications, but I salute its bravery nevertheless, with a strong possibility it’ll end up in my Top 10 for 2016, possibly (long shot at best) among Oscar’s Best Picture finalists as well.  (I’m also hoping Huppert will finally get a long-deserved-Best Actress Oscar-nomination—as she already has similar honors from others for this film, so we’ll see if they choose to award her or not—but that’s often been difficult for Oscar-voters where foreign-language-films and their main-performers are concerned, solitary-winners Sophia Loren [Two Women {Vittorio De Sica, 1960}] and Marion Cotillard [La Vie en Rose {Olivier Dahan, 2007}] notwithstanding.)

 As for my usual Musical Metaphor to address (from the perspective of an entirely different form of expression) my overall responses to the film in question, for what I see in Elle I’m really pushing the metaphorical concept—just as the film itself pushes traditional ideas about sexual relations and the responses of various women to those encounters—by my early strong consideration of Bob Dylan’s "Masters of War" (from his 1963 The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album) because of its absolutist-condemnation of not only the battle-planners (“You that hide behind desks”) but also the leaders of the vast military-industrial-complex (a term of warning about such war-profiteers, coming ironically from what many would consider one of its own, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served both as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during WW II and later as President of the United States, but issued this statement as his 2nd term neared its end on January 17, 1961) of those who provide the implements of our self-imposed-destruction (“You that build the death planes You that build all the bombs”).  Neither Patrick—in his sick desire to brutally impose himself on female victims of his perversion—nor Michèle—in her willingness to make a profit from the overseeing of the creation of a violence-surrogate to be played (mostly) by hormone-driven young males—are “masters” of the type of destruction that Dylan was railing against* but they’re on the road to such deterioration of the human spirit, as they present themselves as willing participants in further desensitizing of their world (supported, ultimately, by their intimate female companions), even if not at the grotesque level of Michèle’s father’s crimes.  It’s easy enough to want to “stand over [the] graves” of Georges and Patrick “’Til I’m sure that you’re dead,” but I wouldn’t be too quick to absolve Michèle, Anna, and Rebecca of their acceptance of all that’s occurred as well.

Just for clarity, this is Bob Dylan not Tom Lockney
*I still remember being a member of the Catholic Student Center folk singers at the Univ. of Texas Austin campus in the late 1960s when we were invited (why, I’m not sure) to perform for the airmen at nearby Bergstrom Air Force Base one night.  Our hosts gave us the gracious opportunity to present whatever we wished (I forget if we sang anything of a religious nature that we’d do at the Sunday masses) so one of our group, Tom Lockney, did a solo of another Dylan song, "With God On Our Side" (from the 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changing), intended to be a direct challenge to our hosts, these solid military men (I don’t recall seeing any women in uniform that night), about their participation in the Vietnam War, which we collectively opposed (I think Tom was especially emphatic on lyrics such as “But now we got weapons Of the chemical dust If fire them we’re forced to Then fire them we must” and “If God’s on our side He’ll stop the next war”).  I’ll still give those USAF airmen credit for their acceptance of our presentation that night—including Tom’s editorial—with no knowledge of how any of them personally might have felt about the national enterprise that they were a part of, even if they might have chosen this branch of the military as a route away from the required draft into the Army (just as I went into UT in Air Force ROTC despite my high-school Army ROTC experience, until I made the decision that I wanted no part of the Vietnam War slaughterhouse), with its sure ticket to the infantry’s front lines in Southeast Asian jungles (a fate the males in our group were temporarily protected from by our college deferments).  Likewise, in watching Elle it’s hard to imagine God being on anyone’s side.

 However, rather than choosing “Masters of War” for Elle’s Musical Metaphor, I’m going with another Dylan song, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” (also on The Freewheelin’ … album) but with Patti Smith's rendition* from the recent Nobel Prize ceremony where she delivers these searing lyrics in a manner much reminiscent of how Dylan would have sung them back during the time when he wrote it but I've chosen it also because she has a moment of confusion in the midst of the song (due to her self-admitted-nervousness doing a tribute to this recent winner of the grand prize in literature who didn’t attend the ceremony due to prior commitments [although no one’s yet been able to determine what they were but he did send a nice acceptance speech]) so the combination of these thoughts about social calamity on the verge of sweeping over us (like Moana’s dark days in the Pacific when the Great Goddess was deprived of her heart; please see my comments further below)—as people like Michèle, Patrick, and their enablers push any sense of personal/social decency to the brink—combined with Smith’s stumbling of the lyrics—just as Michèle seems uncertain of the correct response to her situation, shifting from aggressive defense to embrace of her own erotic pleasure to what seems to be plotted vengeance against both Patrick and her father—leaves me with a sense of discomfort regarding both what Dylan wrote/Smith sang about and how Michèle leaves us with a similar sense of intertwined horror/disgust/humor at how she navigates her life, unapologetic but disturbing as someone who might decide in our current industrial-political-climate to next run for public office with an embraceable persona built on her dubious entertainment success, leaving us with situations where we could find “ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken [… with] ten thousand whisperin’ [but] nobody’s listenin’ 
[… because] the people are many and their hands are all empty … Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,” allowing gamers like Michèle and bankers like Patrick to offer answers to our fates because we’ve become too terrified of maniacs like Georges, too wiling to turn to anyone who seems strong enough (even if not) to offer protection from such rape of our collective wellbeing.

*But if you want Bob singing it, here he is from a 1988 concert in Oakland, CA (don’t know how I missed that one, but I saw another show from that era where he wasn’t nearly as coherent as here, so now I’m really sorry I missed it) with a new verse about the Vietnam War (if you just keeping flowing here on YouTube you also get “Girl from the North Country” from that same concert).
Short Takes
                                Moana (Ron Clements, John Musker)
An animated feature of a Polynesian legend where the heart of the great Creator Goddess was long ago stolen by demigod Maui, bringing evil to the region and the loss of his enchanted fishhook.  As calamity begins to befall her island, a young girl goes against her stern father’s wishes to sail away in hopes of restoring the heart, teaming up with Maui in the process.

 With various other must-see-decisions to attend to I’d hadn’t gotten around to Disney’s newest animated feature (from their own studio, rather than Pixar’s) until a few days ago, but with it’s ongoing success (#1 at the domestic-box-office for 3 weekends in a row, hauling in a hefty $144.7 million during that time, making it #15 for 2016 with a couple of weeks to go to keep entertaining the kids when school’s soon out [a relevant consideration as Nina and I saw it at a Monday mid-afternoon screening in a large theater as part of a 6-person-audience])—and its Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Motion Picture (more details in the Related Links section below), despite a surprising omission of Disney/Pixar’s hugely-popular Finding Dory (Angus MacLane, Andrew Stanton; review in our June 23, 2016 posting) with its worldwide gross of $1.027 billion
I decided it was finally time to catch up with Moana.  The story purports to be an ancient Polynesian tale of the creating goddess Te Fiti rising from the primordial ocean, making islands teeming with life throughout the Pacific.  However, when demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) stole Te Fiti's enchanted pounamu heart, intending it as a gift to humankind, its loss unleashed evils upon the region including lava demon Te Kā who caused the precious stone to fall into the ocean along with Maui’s magical fishhook (the source of his powers), stranding him on an island for 1,000 years.  

 In the story’s present (still millennia ago for us) on the paradisiacal island of Motunui, Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison) prepares his young daughter Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) for leadership; however, when crops fail and fish disappear, Moana wants to venture beyond the barrier reef that protects their island, an act forbidden by Dad.  Just before her death, though, Gramma Tala (Rachel House) reveals to Moana the secret cave of outrigger canoes which brought their ancestors to this island before the dark times after which its inhabitants chose safety rather than further exploration.

 Defying her father’s edict, Moana takes one of these craft into the larger ocean, carrying with her the precious heart stone (which the mighty sea itself washed up on the shore for only her to retrieve) where a storm deposits her on Maui’s island, finally giving him a chance to escape to find his fishhook.  This big demigod is a massively-muscled-but-egotistical guy who rejects Moana’s mission but the ocean continues to deposit her on the boat so he finally accepts her as a traveling companion, teaching her to sail in the process.  After they elude some pursuing Kakamora (little coconut-pirate-demons), then climb a tall island mountain with a tunnel that drops them beneath the sea into Lalotai, a lair of monsters, they get the hook back from giant crab Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), then sail off to return the heart stone to Te Fiti’s island, guarded by Te Kā.  However, an unsuccessful attempt to elude the creature results in Maui’s hook being damaged, him leaving Moana to her own devices, her becoming despondent as well until the spirit of Grandmother Tala arrives to encourage her to make another attempt of restoring the heart (with Maui’s last-minute-help, reminiscent of Han Solo’s triumphant return in Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope [George Lucas, 1977]) where they find Te Kā is a corrupted version of Te Fiti so Moana offers the heart to her, transforming the goddess back into a green embodiment of fertility (who restores Maui’s now-completely-damaged-fishhook in the process), with Moana sailing home to a welcoming family who become inspired to launch their long-hidden-fleet to look for new islands (that Maui will likely be pulling up from the sea).  The computer-generated-animation in Moana is outstanding (with amazing textures of water, foliage, sand, etc.), the female protagonist provides exactly the kind of counter-role-model that feminist critics of the much-earlier-Disney-princesses have called for in that this 
little girl (seemed more like a teenager to me but was identified as an 8-year-old) has normal fears and lack-of-experience-limitations but also shows her great courage under fire (literally, from the lava-beast), with a gutsy-determination to adapt quickly to her challenges, fitting nicely into the traditional American hero myth of the adventurer willing to explore the unknown frontier rather than choose the known safety of settled-cultural-expectations in a secure realm (reflecting what we see in Moana's cute pre-feature-short called Inner Workings of the Human Body, where a stifled-drone-worker for Boring, Boring & Glum has a protective-brain that keeps overruling the more-stimulated-desires of the heart until the organizing-organ finally allows them to all break free, bringing energy, joy, and contentment to the office), even as that realm may be on the brink of disaster as the world around it descends into chaos.  Overall, Moana may be a bit predictable (pee in the ocean jokes) and preachy (“No one goes beyond the reef” says the Chief) with some lengthy action scenes above and below the ocean surface intended to just fill time with spectacular effects, but it delivers a well-needed-message, it pokes fun at its own heritage (Moana says that she’s not a princess; Maui counters that wearing a skirt and having an animal companion [goofy rooster Heihei who keeps eating the heart stone] makes her one anyway), and is a gorgeous experience to look at.  If you want to know more about it (before having to buy the DVD for your kids that they’ll replay for years, as well as decide for yourself if, even after extensive use of Polynesian consultants, there’s still legitimate reason for a few complaints about the characterization of Maui), you might want to visit the official site, the trailer, and the collective critical responses: Rotten Tomatoes 
(95%), Metacritic (81%, high for them; details on both in the Related Links section just below*)

*In that I just resurrected a regular, awards-season feature in those Related Links, I’ll remind you that you can now go there to find a easy path to the Golden Globes nominees (you can also look over this article about big snubs and surprises in that list); further, I’ll note that the Critics' Choice Awards (from the Broadcast Film Critics Association [BFCA] and Broadcast Television Journalists Association [BTJA]), another major ceremony, gave Best Picture to La La Land (Damien Chazelle) while my local San Francisco Film Critics Circle (of which I’m still not a member but have applied again for the 5th straight year, so wish me luck) chose Moonlight (Barry Jenkins; review in our November 10, 2016 posting) as their Best Film.  You’d think that I’d also be eligible for some sort of Rationalization Award for how I managed to work in a discussion of 3 Dylan songs in choosing a Musical Metaphor for Elle when there must be something more directly appropriate, but I’ve yet to find an organization that gives out such recognitions (if so, I might also be honored for Most Lengthy Reviews Since Pauline Kael, so I’ll keep a space open on my mantelpiece just in case).

 Given all of the impactful year-end-releases now hitting our screens which I'm trying to see as soon as I can, I may be back with you next week with more reviews to close out my comments on 2016 cinema or I may not; if not, I'll wish you happy holidays of your own persuasion and a glorious 2017.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2016’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 26, 2017 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2016 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards 
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees for films and TV from 2016.

Here’s more information about Elle: (35:32 interview with director Paul Verhoeven and actor Isabelle Huppert)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.



  1. Elle. Excellent review and film that provides a compelling human story even though it is a challenge to watch at times, not due to any shortage of quality or suspense, but because of it's very real depiction of the human condition. This is what cinematic art was meant to achieve.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for your supportive comments. I agree that Elle is truly "what cinematic art was meant to achieve." Despite the predictive plurality for Emma Stone getting the Best Actress Oscar for La La Land, I've seen support from a number of folks for Huppert (I'm just glad she finally got a nomination after a brilliant career so far), although I'm in the other minority group who'd like to see the award go to Natalie Portman for Jackie. Soon all of this speculation will be history. Ken