Greta. Neil Jordan’s Greta is the best kind of B-movie: a knowingly funny thriller that allows the actress at its core to go ham. Isabelle Huppert, arguably the greatest living actress, plays the titular Greta Hideg, a woman who leaves bags on New York trains hoping someone will find them, return them, and spend time with her. When the unsuspecting Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) realizes this, she tries to cut Greta off, but Greta has already dug her nails deep into the life of this young woman.
In both tone and narrative, Greta falls squarely between the ’90s women’s thriller Single White Female and the ’60s Hammer horror film Die! Die! My Darling! The beats are familiar, almost predictable, and inspired by every thriller from the realm of Hitchcock to the hagsploitation films you know and love. But the thrills and pleasures come from how Huppert elevates the material she’s been handed by Jordan and cowriter Ray Wright.
Huppert leans into high camp, be it dancing around her victims after drugging them or screaming viciously while flipping tables at a restaurant (which inspired the greatest, and gayest, promo for a film ever). Moretz, then, is her perfect straight man, contrasting the psychotic Huppert with a sincere, almost doe-like, performance. She exists as a figure to sympathize with, grounding a narrative that often takes wild leaps into implausibility. Even Maika Monroe’s best friend is saddled with dialogue that stretches credulity without leaning into the vapidity of that rich white girl we all know in movies, a shame considering the film occasionally approaches a genuine level of interest in how Frances navigates relationships with other women after the death of her mother.
But Greta doesn’t need an emotional through-line to work, as Jordan seems more interested in playing everything for laughs. A loud and gleefully menacing score pierces practically every scene in which characters discover new horrors, reveal dangerous secrets, or simply make ridiculous life decisions. His filmography, a rather queer roster if one looks past surface level, has been accused of taking itself too seriously, but the wonderful Greta is thankfully one instance where the claim would be greatly unwarranted. Opens Friday, March 1, at the Landmark at Merrick Park and AMC Sunset Place. — Juan Antonio Barquin
Champions. Call it the Green Book effect, but I felt some guilt enjoying Champions — I even shed a tear by the end of it. Films like Green Book are no longer relevant, and we should be more offended than moved by them. Green Book, which won this year’s Best Picture Oscar, finds ironic humor in the dated white savior trope, redeeming a man with casual racist prejudice and leaving the audience feeling warm and fuzzy. Similarly, Champions, the Spanish film directed by Javier Fesser, capitalizes on those with developmental disabilities to redeem an angry alcoholic who starts out caring little about those with special needs but later finds affection for them.
Marco (Javier Gutiérrez) is a second-tier basketball coach who finds himself in the drunk tank after clipping a cop car following an angry night of drinking because he couldn’t control his temper on the court. A judge sentences him to community service, where he is to coach a group of young men with various congenital disorders. Fesser employs actors with developmental issues as the basketball team with special needs.
After the film had its Florida premiere in October at Miami Film Festival GEMS, recalls MDC’s Tower Theater director Nicolas Calzada, Fesser spoke about the importance of casting actors with developmental issues. “It was a strict condition of his at the start of casting,” Calzada recalls Fesser saying. Still, a rather complicated film results. Despite Fesser’s noble gesture, early in the movie, he relies on an oompah score and cutaways to funny faces in a low attempt at humor. There also is the cringe-inducing appearance of a photo of Marco and his wife Sonia (Athenea Mata) in happier times — dressed in Native American costumes. It’s an unfortunate oversight in cultural sensitivity.
For the most part, however, the film seeks to elevate the audience’s awareness about those with developmental issues with charm in the performances and the reaction of those around them. Fesser also addresses the R-word early when Marco’s mother (Luisa Gavasa) puts the sting on it during a brief scene showing how quick society has been to relegate some words to the trash keep of political correctness and not others. Though there is room for Fesser to do better with Champions, there is plenty of representation and genuine moments of earned humor that puts outsiders in their place. Champions is in competition at the 36th Miami Film Festival for the Zeno Mountain Award when it plays Saturday, March 2, at the Silverspot Cinema. It also screens Saturday, March 2, at MDC’s Tower Theater and Monday, March 11, at O Cinema Miami Beach. — Hans Morgenstern