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Paul Verhoeven (#110 of 18)

Marrakech International Film Festival A Talk with Shinya Tsukamoto, Honoring Paul Verhoeven, & a Look at The Fixer

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Marrakech International Film Festival: A Talk with Shinya Tsukamoto, Honoring Paul Verhoeven, & a Look at The Fixer

Marrakech International Film Festival

Marrakech International Film Festival: A Talk with Shinya Tsukamoto, Honoring Paul Verhoeven, & a Look at The Fixer

Under the high patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI—to say nothing of the friendly participation of nearly three dozen multinational corporate sponsors—your correspondent was treated to just over a week in Marrakech, for the city’s 16th Marrakesh International Film Festival (FIFM). On the flight from New York, a United Nations employee told me the country’s vertiginous economics weren’t so different from those of the United States, “but the difference is that in Marrakech, you will actually see it.” He wasn’t wrong: The floors of the palatial hotel-resort-spa-compound housing the American critics’ contingent were walked day and night by employees with spray bottles and paper towels, spot-cleaning every last inch of marble and glass for maximum lustre. Cab drivers in permanent turnaround outside the main quadrangle of hotels decried the festival compound for clogging traffic on the palm tree-laden main drag of El Yarmouk Boulevard, while children in the street ambushed American publicists with rose petals after the sun went down—then castigated them for refusing to pay for the privilege.

The Films of Paul Verhoeven Ranked

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The Films of Paul Verhoeven Ranked

Rialto Pictures

The Films of Paul Verhoeven Ranked

During the closing moments of John Carpenter’s They Live, a sound collage of news readers and media pundits is unfurled, one of them indignantly blasting the low culture wrought by the likes of George A. Romero and Carpenter himself. It was a none-too-subtle in-joke for fans, but also a gesture of respect, one craftsman tipping his hat to his peer across the aisle. Had the speaker continued, he might easily have spoken the name of Paul Verhoeven, whose U.S. tour of duty resulted in several of the highest-profile and least respected films of their day.

Verhoeven signed his name to at least two VCR classics (RoboCop and Total Recall), one bona-fide game changer that dominated media and water-cooler conversations for months on end (Basic Instinct), and one certified turkey (Showgirls) whose fate may still be undetermined. While his stock rose and fell several times during his volatile tenure as a Hollywood auteur, his films rarely failed to provoke excitement and contention; only the bookends (Flesh+Blood in 1985, Hollow Man in 2000) fail to contribute to the tsunami.

Verhoeven didn’t just arrive in America a fully formed auteur director; he began making features that way, arriving at his feature directorial debut, Business Is Business, equipped with a favorite set of progressive themes and a flair for instilling even small moments with a swaggering, ramshackle kineticism. Most movie buffs will now associate his name only with rank sensationalism—bare breasts and broken bones—and it isn’t as if he would decline the honor. But filmed depictions of sex and violence don’t exist within Verhoeven’s purview exclusively. What we may have been responding to was the casualness, bordering on grinning impertinence, with which he deployed images designed to titillate or shock. A girl in Turkish Delight lops off the top of a banana before using a spoon to extract the meat. Verhoeven goes after your nervous system the same way: Why peel?

In honor of Film Society of Lincoln Center’s complete retrospective of Paul Verhoeven’s work, running from November 9—23, we ranked the Dutch filmmaker’s films from worst to best.

Cannes Film Review: Elle

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Cannes Film Review: Elle

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Review: Elle

The Cannes Film Festival saved the best for last: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is an ingenuously constructed drama that roots all of its complexities in matters of character. Isabelle Huppert’s Michéle is a woman gradually revealed in her interactions with others, and in the details she divulges about herself. When she was only 10 years old, she was party to the brutal mass murder committed by her Christian fundamentalist father, a tragedy immortalized in a documentary, The Accused Will Rise, that occasionally airs on French television in the film. The reputation of Michéle’s family has consequently suffered, but the woman’s own self-confidence hasn’t wavered, leading to her considerable success as CEO of an erotic video-game company.

Summer of ’90: Total Recall

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Summer of ’90: Total Recall
Summer of ’90: Total Recall

Some of the first things about Total Recall I latched onto as a young cinephile were its dazzling production design and special effects, its breathless action sequences, its over-the-top violence—in short, its surface. And, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, trying to come off as a normal guy despite his superhuman physique, heavily accented English, and increasingly ubiquitous one-liners. Today, though, my appreciation for Paul Verhoeven’s mind trip goes beyond simple nostalgia, and hinges on how its seductive look and immediate visceral pleasures are wily in their concealment of grand themes.

Certainly, the film’s Philip K. Dick-inspired plot is rife with elements revolving around images and their sinister undercurrents: Douglas Quaid’s (Schwarzenegger) obsession with Mars as a deliverance from his empty idyllic existence on Earth; his gradual discovery of a supposed secret past as a spy named Hauser; Lori (Sharon Stone), the blond bombshell of a wife who turns out to be an operative for villainous henchman Richter (Michael Ironside); the seemingly normal resistance fighter (Marshall Bell) whose torso houses the legendary mutant leader named Kuato.

That RoboCop Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

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That RoboCop Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

Columbia Pictures

That RoboCop Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

Even amid the troubling trend of remaking films that have barely collected a speck of dust, there are still movies that can surprise you. I know quite a few colleagues who were plenty keen on last year’s Dredd, a cohesive reimagining (or whatever) of the character whose first screen outing was an ill-fated, 1990s Stallone vehicle. Most often, however, in recent times, these remakes reek of desperation—evidence of Hollywood’s tendon-stretching reach for anything remotely tied to a known, sellable brand. Yesterday, the trailer for the RoboCop remake hit the web, and anyone born after 1995 probably didn’t even flinch. “Oh, look—there’s Samuel L. Jackson, that guy from The Avengers. And there’s some robot with a gun who kinda looks like a Transformer.” Following Len Wiseman’s banal-as-bathwater take on Total Recall, the new RoboCop (set for release on Feb. 7, 2014) will mark the second re-telling—I’m running out of “re” words here—of a Paul Verhoeven movie in as little as two years. By all evidence, these two films stand as testaments to the hollowness of mainstream cinema’s brand regurgitation, as their inspirations didn’t necessarily gain notoriety for their concepts, but for their director’s knowing, satirical, just-north-of-B-movie sensibilities.

Summer of ’88: Dead Heat - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Dead Heat</em> - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops
Summer of ‘88: <em>Dead Heat</em> - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

Believe it or not, there’s an interesting idea lurking inside Dead Heat. It arrives too late to save the viewer, but it should have been the pitch that got this film made. Rather than focus on the one-sentence plot description (“It’s a buddy cop picture where one of the buddies is D-E-D-Dead!”), writer Terry Black should have lead with the reason the machine that reanimates corpses exists. During the climax, mad-scientist Vincent Price explains to his rich investors that his machine will reanimate them after death so they can live forever and screw their heirs out of their inheritance. The machine will also perform maintenance on them so they can look their best, while those greedy bastards they sired wither away and die. “That’s a great idea!” I thought. “This is Death Becomes Her before Death Becomes Her became Death Becomes Her!”

Unfortunately, this development comes out of left field and is quickly discarded in the ensuing climactic carnage. Until this point, the machine was being used to create an indestructible race of jewel thieves. Two of these creatures are seen in the opening of the film, appearing just as a snooty rich woman utters, “I was hoping for a little more suspense.” She’s talking about jewelry, but she’s also echoing the audience’s sentiment. Dead Heat bills itself as a horror-comedy, but it’s not gruesome enough to satisfy gorehounds, and it isn’t intentionally funny at all. It keeps the sad promises offered by the familiar red New World Pictures logo that graced similar ’80s output: sober people with little time on their hands need not apply, as this one’s for bored drunks on lonely Saturday nights.

As the zombie robbers smash and grab, detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) appear on the scene…along with half the police department. The criminals are shot 40,000 times but will…not…die. Mortis, Bigelow, and their cop brethren respond to this far too calmly. “Maybe they’re on PCP,” says one cop. Nobody thinks to shoot them in the head, though one is blown up by a grenade. “You have the right to remain…disgusting!” says Bigelow to the exploded corpse.