Search This Blog

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Madame Hyde

Isabelle Huppert excels in portraying characters who are often tightly wound with a hidden dark side, just brimming beneath the surface. Whether she is playing a video game CEO who is playing a dangerous game of seduction and violence with her rapist (Elle); a piano teacher who secretly engages in voyeurism at peepshows and porn cinemas (The Piano Teacher); or a postmistress who coerces a housemaid into murdering her bourgeois employers (La Cérémonie). Huppert never settles for characters with each morals or a transparent image, they always have to have a fascinating complication to them.

Huppert continues with this style of characterization in Madame Hyde, co-written and directed by Serge Bozon, a modern-day retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with Huppert as a nervous and timid science teacher named Madame Guteil in a high school in the Paris suburbs. Guteil struggles to maintain control over her rambunctious students, who openly mock her and harass her because she cannot lead with confidence. The students are pent-up with boredom from wanting to perform physical experiments instead of listening to lectures, and, as they are ethnically diverse tech students, are considered by the school as being made for labor, not brains. And she is mocked by her colleagues when she attempts to defend herself against the school council criticizing her performance as a teacher.

Madame Guteil tries to psych herself up to lead her class, assuming her devoted husband’s advice of “Don’t let fear tense your body,” and telling herself, “A teacher doesn’t need to be liked, but understood.” Nevertheless, the students laugh at her, and make a fortuitous comparison between her and Spider-Man, in which they admire a fictional character more than they respect her as a real person.

As fate would have it, Madame Guteil is accidentally electrocuted by lightning in her home lab by the harvest moonlight, and, like Spider-Man, she has now been changed through a science accident. Her body stands more erect, and she emanates an inner glow that eventually encompasses her body like a radiation of her repressed anger.  Her alternate self, Mrs. Hyde, possesses her to the point of walking out in the middle of the night, glowing in her nightgown like a ghost of the Victorian Gothic era, with a distant look in her serene expression.

Her transformation infuses an authority in her, and she uses her newfound strength to guide her students into understanding critical thinking and problem solving for themselves, and learning how to explain scientific experiments for themselves. Guteil especially develops a mentoring relationship with her student Malik (Adda Senani, in an endearing and sweet performance), a handicapped teenage boy who dresses in track suits and is at both cocky and shy at the same time. He acts out in class out of boredom, outright sexually harassing Guteil to fit in with his peers, especially the hip-hop loving boys in his local housing projects, but as they are both the misfits targeted by their peers, they find a connection with one another. Malik admits that he acts out because “I’m scared of becoming someone like you. Someone weak.” Guteil takes it in stride, and gives him a private lesson in mathematics in her lab, teaching him how to think and develop logic for himself. And as Guteil gains the respect of her students, she transforms into a good teacher, shedding her fear and trepidation.

But despite the positive strengths of her transformation, her alternate self has a power that threatens to consume her innocent morals, and she cannot control what changes her from the inside, and what may have been her saving force may also be her personal destruction.

Madame Hyde is a decent film, and is a rare opportunity for Huppert to not only play an insecure character, but to present her humorous touches as well. Romain Duris, as the school principal, also relishes an opportunity to play against his bohemian type and play an awkwardly dorky administrator, with the ability to say ridiculous lines with a light comic sensibility.  Madame Hyde may not be a very memorable film in the scope of Isabelle Huppert’s catalog, especially with her recent critical successes of Things to Come and Elle, but it is an interesting and unusual film about a woman’s metaphysical transformation as a schoolteacher and beyond.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Thoughts on Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

I went to see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence last month at MoMA as part of their Future Imperfect: The Uncanny in Science Fiction film series. It is an anime film from 2004, directed by Mamoru Oshii, based on the manga by Shirow Masamune, and is a sequel to the classic anime film from 1995. I really liked it a lot, I was totally into the mixing of cyberpunk with noir aesthetics. I enjoyed how the film mixed hand-drawn animation with CGI, and had moody jazz music to set the atmosphere in the often rainy and dark city.

The basic plot was that androids created by a company as girlish-looking sex dolls were intentionally self-destructing and killing their masters, and a pair of cops, a human and a cyborg, are assigned to the case. Meanwhile, the heroine of the first film, Major Motoko Kusanagi, has now assimilated into technology as a sort of "ghost," where her spirit lives on, with communication with the cyborg cop.

The story mostly centers on the cyborg cop, Batou, as he wrestles with both his humanity and his cybernetic technology, and he resembled Dolph Lundgren to me. And though the story takes place in Hong Kong 2032, the human cop, Togusa, was sporting an 80's mullet, it was a little funny to me.

The film explores themes of humanity, death, what it means to be alive or "real" as human or otherwise, and questioning reality. It was really fascinating and interesting to watch, and I was happy to have spent my evening watching this trippy film.

Thoughts on Profit

Last Friday, I was watching the short-lived 1996 Fox series Profit, a very dark drama starring Adrian Pasdar as a sociopathic businessman named Jim Profit who climbs up the corporate ladder through ruthless ways, using blackmail, deceit, manipulation, and cheating to get what he wants and ruin people's lives. The show was created by David Greenwalt and John McNamara, who have written for The X-Files, Buffy, Angel, Lois and Clark, and The Adventures of Briscoe County.

It is an intriguing show, mostly full of corporate people wrapped up in their public images and being cold and self-serving behind the scenes. The plots can be complex, as Profit sets a lot of traps in motion that intertwine with each other, and the details can get a little confusing. But the overall plot is that Profit is playing people against each other and pulling the strings with little detection in order to get what he wants.

For example, in the pilot episode, he blackmails a secretary who has been embezzling business funds to pay for her sick mother's nursing home care in order to get her to hack the company computer system to find evidence that the company has been selling tainted baby food. The story is leaked to the press, and the company is trying to find the employee who ratted on them. Profit is on his first day, so he is seen as the innocent, and he ends up getting one woman fired after 18 loyal years, and the secretary gets fired, only to be re-hired by Profit as his assistant in his already-promoted position.

Pasdar gives a very chilling and intense performance, and while this show got cancelled for being too dark and amoral, the TV antihero would become a more common lead in cable shows over the next twenty years, with characters like Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), Dexter Morgan (Dexter), Walter White (Breaking Bad), Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones), Vic Mackey (The Shield) and Patty Hewes (Damages).

Another compelling character was Joanne Meltzer (Lisa Zane), the head of securities in corporate who is skeptical of Profit and is investigating his shady backstory and role in business politics. Zane plays her with a self-assured confidence and an intimidating ability to see through Profit and to be a threat to him, no matter how manipulative he can be.

While this show was very ahead of its time, there is a glaring feature that sets the show squarely of its time: the mid-1990s computer graphics of the secret files that Profit infiltrates to dig up dirt on his colleagues. The scenes in which he hacks the computer shows him navigating a 3-D office setup with terrible graphics that have not aged well at all, with the characters' faces pasted over their files, and their faces exploding whenever Profit has ruined their lives. The attempt at 3-D graphics looks like a first-person shooter computer game where the player is just navigating halls and rooms, and it looks incredibly out of place on a show meant to have a real-world nihilism to it.

It is a very interesting show, that had a lot of promise when it premiered, but quickly had a reputation for being too "dangerous" and "devilish," and got cancelled after four episodes. Today, it doesn't seem that bad compared to later ground-breaking shows, but it provided an early path for them, and has its place in critic lists of unfairly cancelled TV shows.