Woman Thou Art Loosed
Rated R; ***
Hate and forgiveness, the destructive power of the former and the uplifting power of the latter, are the cornerstones of Woman Thou Art Loosed, a largely effective morality play about an abused girl who never gets over the poison inflicted on her preadolescent soul.
Michelle Jordan (Kimberley Elise) is introduced shooting a gun during a worship service led by the charismatic Bishop T.D. Jakes (a real-life minister, and author of the book on which this film is based). When next we see Jakes, he's ministering to Michelle on death row.
As pastor and penitent speak, Michelle's tragic tale unwinds: Abused as a young girl by her indiscriminate mother's latest beau, Reggie (an oily Clifton Powell), accused of lying by her mother, increasingly drug-dependent, she grows up bitter and distrustful. Landing in jail, she's eventually paroled, but only on the condition she see Jakes regularly.
Through him, she finds herself slowly, almost imperceptibly restored - until some ghosts from her past return, and she lashes out violently.
Elise is all coiled fury as Michelle, wise and wary and unaware that that little girl is still somewhere inside her. The scenes between Michelle and Jakes are at the soul of this movie, and their connection is simultaneously tentative and unbreakable, as each tries to learn from the other.
The film unnecessarily allows its characters to speak directly into the camera, and it's hard to tell how the filmmakers themselves feel about characters like Reggie. But there's a power to Woman Thou Art Loosed that transcends its limitations, a determined, heartfelt belief in the possibility of redemption. That such hope may be blind makes it no less formidable.
- Chris Kaltenbach
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Rated PG-13; Score **1/2
In the cyborg-dominated future of Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell anime films, the distinction between man and machine has been obscured and the very essence of life dangles precariously before us.
In Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the hyper-macho cyborg cop Batou begins investigating a model of android sexual companion, referred to as gynoids or dolls, when one kills its owner. The supposedly soulless gynoids are creepily modeled on early-adolescent girls. Oshii seems to be commenting on the exploitation of children, but it is more than a little disturbing when Batou starts blowing away what looks like a casting call for the next episode of Sailor Moon.
Oshii's stated interest is the loss of humanism and the necessity for a coexistence of all life forms, represented in the film by the cyborgs, dolls and a robotic basset hound that provides Batou with his only real relationship. The problem is that most of these ideas get muffled in the protean storytelling and existential ramblings.
Questioning one's humanity on a daily basis would not be a bad thing for most of us. However, these contemplative cyborgs let it ruin what lives they do have (not to mention slowing down what might have been a dynamic movie).
Take a lesson from Major Kusanagi in the first Ghost in the Shell film: Unplug from the narrative, let the images wash over you and enjoy the beautiful ride.
Los Angeles Times
Rated R; Score ***
Intimate Strangers, the latest gem from France's Patrice Leconte (The Man on the Train), is a psychological drama that reminds us how sexy and charged with romance a simple conversation can be.
This tale of an accidental relationship between a troubled wife (Sandrine Bonnaire) and a financial adviser she mistakenly believes is a psychiatrist (Fabrice Luchini) is such a triumph of simplicity, subtlety and tact - and of the eroticism in words, looks and glances - that the actors ravish us with sheer talent and intelligence.
For nearly two hours, Leconte and his superb twosome keep us enthralled with a series of dialogues against the sparest of backgrounds, as "patient" Anna progressively exposes her psychological and sexual dysfunctions to "analyst" William Faber.
The psychological charade begins when Anna, directed to the office of a psychiatrist, opens the wrong door. Mistaking William's inner sanctum (which contains both a book on psychiatry and a couch) for the doctor's, she immediately begins a sort of psychological striptease. Fascinated, William can't confess the truth - until it's too late.
More and more deeply the two become entangled in each other's lives.
Leconte admires Hitchcock's great thrillers, and like some of them (Rear Window), this is a movie about voyeurism, the sin of curiosity and the pleasures and dangers of that sin - in the French style. As Leconte wants us to see, it's bared souls as much as hidden flesh that ultimately turn us on.