Opens Fri March 10
Homely Elisa (Emmanuelle Devos) is married to Gilles (Clovis Cornillac), a jerk who's sleeping with Elisa's sister, Victorine (Laura Smet). Gilles makes no secret of the affair—and he really doesn't need to, because despite Elisa's sadness over the event and the fact that they have three kids together, Elisa does nothing whatsoever to put an end to her husband's dicking around.
It's impossible not to dislike Gilles—he's arguably the quintessential dumb bastard—and Victorine doesn't fare much better. So you'd think that one's sympathies would have to be with the thoroughly screwed-over Elisa, but no dice: As played by Devos, Elise is so listless, flat, and vacuous that you really can't blame Gilles for looking for action elsewhere. So when the bulk of Gilles' Wife settles in—which largely consists of long shots of Elisa moping, moping, cleaning her and Gilles' pastoral French home, then moping some more, with a few precious interludes of her staring into space—you're left to realize that when people say they hate foreign cinema, this is exactly the sort of film that they're thinking of. And, in this case at least, their sentiments are pretty justified. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Opens Fri March 10
Zooey Deschanel is made of magic. Zooey Deschanel can take a nothing day and make it all seem worthwhile. I love Zooey Deschanel. Pardon the mash note, but with a less transcendent actress, Winter Passing might have totally blown. Instead, the film maintains a pleasant balance between maudlin and amusing, shrieking misery and playful froth.
Deschanel is Reese Holden, emotionally dead New York actress and daughter of two legendary literary recluses (read: Salinger and Salinger) who self-medicates with cocaine, unfulfilling sex, and by repeatedly slamming her hand in a drawer. When a book publisher offers big bucks for a box of her parents' love letters, Reese heads home, where she finds her father (a frighteningly aged Ed Harris) in an alcoholic puddle, cohabitating with two young strangers (Amelia Warner and Will Ferrell). And since there's no coke in Michigan (apparently), she's got nothing to do but dig through the detritus of her parents' stormy relationship.
Deschanel, like I said, is funny and affecting. If you don't like Will Ferrell, you'll probably find him distracting, but his character—a Christian rocker who quit his band, Punching Pilate, because "they were starting to get all ska"—has a gentle, if silly, believability. Winter Passing is a dark movie with a happy wrap-up—the kind of movie that haters love to write off as contrived or boring. But why can't it just be nice? LINDY WEST
The Hills Have Eyes
Opens Fri March 10
For a guy who doesn't talk much, Leatherface sure has a lot to answer for. Of the hundreds of entries in the post-Texas Chainsaw slasher boom of the '70s and '80s, only a rarified few—Cronenberg's Rabid, say, or the still dumbfounding I Spit On Your Grave—managed to follow its lead and lurch into the realm of what Stephen King once termed Please, Make It Stop Cinema: movies where grainy film stock, amateurish actors, and relentless sadism conspired to fuck up your dreams.
Much like the MTV-ized Chainsaw remake from a few years ago, the new version of Wes Craven's 1977 desert mutants vs. dumbass tourists saga The Hills Have Eyes utterly trumps its source material on a technical level. When it comes to getting your primal ya yas out, though, the combination of state-of-the-art effects and actors who can actually act makes it somehow easier to shrug off—this re-imagining certainly amps up the unpleasantness, but that coveted nightmare vibe remains elusive.
This marks the second film from director Alexandre Aja, whose earlier Haute Tension sparked off hopes among the internet set of a grindhouse renaissance man. But while he can certainly sling the red stuff, pinging that elusive reptile part of the brain still seems beyond him. ANDREW WRIGHT