YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Sex and nudity involving underage characters. In subtitled French and German.
In this sensual, elegant immorality tale, 17-year-old stunner Isabelle (Marine Vacth) takes on a new after-school activity: prostitution. It’s not forced on her. Her family is as psychologically healthy as most, well-meaning and well-off. Isabelle simply disconnects sex from romance when her deflowering by a handsome, caring boy on a gorgeous beach yields ennui. Summer vacation over, she sets up her trade in Paris, offering her services on a website favored by middle-aged men. Businesslike, intelligent, cool and self-contained, she presents herself as a legal escort. The girl remains as uninterested in her clients as she is in the considerable sums of money she earns. She’s not easily fathomed or eager to be rerouted from her chosen path. She chooses to be defined by her own will and actions, even if they are risky for her and hurtful for those around her. Director François Ozon keeps his heroine a beguiling blank, a strategy that worked equally well in Luis Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour.”
COLD IN JULY
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: Violence and language.
A tense, engrossing Texas thriller with a sense of humor as sharp and wounding as a Bowie knife. Michael C. Hall, sporting a great ’80s ’stache and mullet, plays a pipsqueak who kills a young burglar, then finds his family threatened by the boy’s dangerous father (stoical, scary Sam Shepard). Don't leap to conclusions about where the story is going; it hits us with more left turns than a NASCAR race. There are surprises aplenty, from the film’s grim ideas about family and responsibility, to Hall’s timid character developing an appetite for macho aggression. The film gets a huge boost from the presence of Don Johnson as a wisecracking cowboy detective named Joe Bob. He blows into the story at midpoint like an indelible Tarantino character and gooses it with rascally charm as the characters contend with corrupt cops on the one side and “the Dixie Mafia” on the other. A dark running joke about Hall’s marriage to domineering Vinessa Shaw explains why the guy keeps thrusting himself into danger. He wants to get out of the house and raise hell with his new buddies. The film is adopted by writer/director Jim Mickle from the crime novel by Joe R. Lansdale, who made Joe Bob a recurring character in later works. You’ll probably leave this bloody, exhilarating pulp rumpus hoping that Johnson gets to play him two or three more times.