Michael Haneke is one of a select group of contempo writer/directors whose career seems vested in the cinema of cruelty. Happy End, Haneke’s latest film, arrives in Houston this weekend, and the film is anything but happy.
The most peculiar aspect of Happy End revolves around the characters played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert. The two revive characters by the same name, Anne and Georges Laurent, that they played in Haneke’s previous film, Amour. However, in true Haneke fashion, Happy End doesn’t feel like a sequel per se. And perhaps that is the greatest accomplishment of this otherwise forgettable cinematic experience.
Thematically there is the specter of death and Amour like another Haneke film, Funny Games, which he made twice, years apart in French and American versions, that stood tall with the spine of fragile mortality. Happy End doesn’t seem to connect the dots in the same manner. In Amour, Trintignant faithfully dotes on his wife, both in their eighties. When she becomes fatally ill and infirm, he puts her out of her misery by suffocating her, but his subsequent suicide attempt fails and now here he is in Happy End exuding with his characteristic brand of pessimism. Huppert, a supporting actress in Amour, has a bigger role in Happy End, and yet it’s her child Eve (Fantine Harduin) that really shares the brunt of Happy End’s barbs.
We are introduced to Eve as she is spying on her mother via a smartphone and also is torturing her pet hamster in a cold and oddly scientific manner, giving the animal doses of mom’s medicine until it ODs. Happy End then switches to Huppert trying to salvage her business, only Huppert becomes a potential suicide suspect because she’s being poisoned by Eve.
Meanwhile, Eve gains proof of her father having an affair and unsuccessfully attempts her own virgin suicide. Flash forward to the end of the film and Eve records Trintignant on her smartphone as she assists him trying to end it once and for all by guiding his wheelchair down a boat ramp and into the tide.
Eve would be best paired with Rhoda, the eight-year-old killer from The Bad Seed, a 1956 melodrama about a youngster with a bent for murder.
Haneke can’t find humanity in these particular characters, but at least his previous films worked on their own terms in respect to the characters relation to their circumstances. In the movie M*A*S*H, “suicide is painless.” In Happy End, suicide is pointless.
Happy End opens exclusively on Friday at the River Oaks Theatre.
I like tacos, you like tacos, we all like tacos.
Jarod Neece and Mando Rayo have spent nearly a decade documenting this unique regional food in Texas, most notably in the book “The Tacos of Texas.”
Their culinary expose examines “San Antonio Puffy tacos; Austin’s Migas scene; El Paso’s Carnitas tacos; and the Rio Grande Valley’s Barbacia tacos y más,” among other regional food delights.
A Youtube Channel, Indie Lens Storycast (presented by Independent Lens in conjunction with PBS Digital Studios), will broadcast a seven-episode version of Tacos of Texas beginning in late summer. The series is currently in production. The duo of Neece and Rayo promises lively food dialogue mixed with a roads of Texas style travelogue.
Annihilation mixes common tropes of science fiction with enough of an unusual twist to keep the whole affair from feeling derivative. Alex Garland (Ex Machina) writes and directs with the source being the first book of Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy.”
What appears to be a meteor strikes a lighthouse along a remote shore. In due time, a sort of shimmering wall starts expanding around the point of impact. An alien presence has the seeming ability to cross mutate species. So an alligator may have traits of a shark, or a tree may contain human DNA. Over a period of years, the military has formed a zone around the expanding shimmer. Every team sent in to investigate has never returned.
Natalie Portman toplines as Lena, a biologist who’s recruited by the military to help examine the phenomena. Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) was a member of a previous expedition.
Garland mixes some clever imagery in quiet moments but knows how to ratchet up the suspense when the film needs to become horrific. For instance, a flashback shows Lena and Kane in a tender moment talking about their marriage, and we see them holding hands across a table reflected through a glass of water. Likewise when Portman and team are being stalked by what could be best described as a hybrid monster, they are frozen with fear while the beast snarls with its snout right next to their heads. (Think about that imagery from any number of the Alien films.)
Annihilation opens wide this weekend.