Cinematic Feature Survey: 2017

by Robert Buchanan
  1. Favorites
  2. Exceptional
  3. Fair
  4. Average
  5. Ghastly

Favorites

Deathtrap (1982)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Ira Levin, Jay Presson Allen
Produced by Burtt Harris, Alfred De Liagre Jr., Jay Presson Allen
Starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, Irene Worth, Henry Jones

"The most important thing in acting is honesty: if you can fake that, you've got it made."

--George Burns

For four flagrant flops in consecution, their famed but fading author (Caine) of thrillers is driven to dejection, desperation and distraction of a kind inspiring the murderous machination to invite a sometime student (Reeve) who's penned and posted him a first-rate foray in his manner to his home for collaborative colloquy, so to dispatch the gifted greenhorn with an article from his panoply of stage props and antique weaponry, and crib the thriller as his own to revive his career and finances. Attic dialogue, anfractuous artifices and artful auguries of Levin's hit stage play are preserved and magnified in this penultimate picture of Lumet's second winning streak, as sable in its hilarity as it's diegetically flexuous, defying and denying prevision for initial viewers first with a perverse masterstroke at midpoint, then a succession of vicissitudes as both the sinuous plot and that of its culprit's eponymous work unfold pari passu, complicated by the homicidal playwright's squirrelly, cardiopathic wife (Cannon) and a meddlesome, clairvoyant celebrity (Worth) of Netherlandish extraction. Caine was cast choicely in the seething, sulky, scheming, creepy lead opposite Reeve, whose typecast stature as cinema's charming, caped darling made selection of a wickedly rigorous role as impressive for his professional daring as his patently protean proficiency. "To show you any more would be a crime," proclaims this movie's trailer in sincerity; that first of several twists may not shock with the potency it had over three decades ago, but the cinematic dash with which Lumet and continually contemporaneous collaborator Allen adapted Levin's ingenious source elevates it in transition to the filmic medium. It's shot, played and cut with such irresistible, hysterical, cutthroat, playful panache, you almost can't envision its proscenium!
Recommended for a double feature paired with A Shock to the System.

The House of the Devil (2009)
Written and directed by Ti West
Produced by Josh Braun, Larry Fessenden, Roger Kass, Peter Phok, Derek Curl, Badie Ali, Hamza Ali, Malik B. Ali, Greg Newman
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Greta Gerwig, Mary Woronov, A.J. Bowen

"That which is new can only be effective in the context of what is old and familiar."

--Krzysztof Penderecki

They're almost as often botched as assayed: period pictures representing the 1980s seem unattainable undertakings for millenial filmmakers, their generation virtually defined by inauthenticity and the pervasive nescience of their precious sociocultural tabula rasa. At worst, even the era's trappings are inadequately recreated: neon rather than pastel accents and accoutrements predominate in '82; leg warmers are garbed glaringly as late as '88; working- and middle-class households enjoy amenities of appliances and entertainments they couldn't possibly yet afford; no residua of the '70s are observable, be they ill-conceived drapes of pea-green and brown paisley or stripes, tacky decals, or enduring, smutty shag sprawling wall to wall. Worse, when an informed crew have replicated interiors, vesture, chattels, etc. so well as to excite the very zeitgeist for those of us who remember, the fastidious facade is compromised as soon as anyone in the cast verbalizes, shattering the simulation with either parlance scripted in poor imitation or a contemporary vernacular voiced via uptalk and other insufferable habitudes.

West and his crew, especially respective production and costume designers Jade Healy and Robin Fitzgerald, and art directior Chris Trujillo, clothe his slow, staid exploitation of the bygone satanic panic with a rare verisimilitude to polish what may be the sole American coruscation of its genre produced during the aughts. Its scenario would in lesser hands seem like hackery; repulsed by her slatternly roommate and therefore desperate to secure her first month's rent for an ample apartment, a cute student (Donahue) leaps at the opportunity to babysit for an elderly couple (Noonan, Woronov) with an avidity abated by the peculiarity of their circumstances, but her dubiety and suppressed suspicions prepare her neither for their grisly intrigues nor the Luciferian fate engrossed upon a lunar emersion following the night's total eclipse. Sagely refraining from complete pastiche, West instead incorporates techniques of the grindhouse era into his nearly elliptic idiom, as frames frozen during opening credits, lingering close-ups of profiles, and zooms of varied speeds that amplify tension, stress vehemence and arrest the eye. He's incapable of a poor shot, maintaining a steady pace by cutting his own 16 mm footage with craft of equal excellence deserved by his script, complete for its shades of portent and playful, preordained protagonist's exploration of her employers' tastefully lavish mansion. Notwithstanding a few anachronous elements (a payphone accepting quarters, latter-day faucets and car alarm), the production's design is immersive, and complemented by fantastic faux newscasts and Mike Armstrong's memorable opening theme. Only a few lines delivered with present intonation remind one fleetingly of Donahue's contemporariness; hers is an achingly lovely post-Celtic ethnotype as becoming to the era as anything she wears or inhabits, all but perfect in the role and upstaged in their every shared scene by indie darling Gerwig as her cheeky best friend. They're foils for Noonan and Woronov, veterans of creepy roles who expertly enact both gentility and an initially subtle, subjacent menace. Disregard naysayers who misrepresent West's cunningly cultivated suspense as longueur, omitting a few of the best jump scares at which you'll ever flinch, and that his prolonged preludes lead to a severely stridulous, sanguineous climax. For both, Jeff Grace's score and adjunct music by second unit director and sound designer Graham Reznick only intensifies and never disrupts disquiet. His Anglophone coevals can't compete, for West apprehends that the devil's in the details, and he, Reznick, et al. are just old enough to faithfully recall and preserve the ethos of '83, when society was still sufficiently sane and cohesive to judge these atrocities shocking.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The City of the Dead, Rosemary's Baby, or Black Christmas.


Exceptional

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The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)
Directed by Éric Rohmer
Written by Honoré d'Urfé, Éric Rohmer
Produced by Françoise Etchegaray, Philippe Liégeois, Jean-Michel Rey, Valerio De Paolis, Enrique González Macho, Serge Hayat
Starring Andy Gillet, Stéphanie Crayencour, Cécile Cassel, Serge Renko, Véronique Reymond, Jocelyn Quivrin, Mathilde Mosnier, Rodolphe Pauly, Rosette, Arthur Dupont, Priscilla Galland

"Where love is, no disguise can hide it for long; where it is not, none can simulate it."

--La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

Love rends, mends and fortifies impassioned, shepherding Foréziens of the 5th century for folly and affection in this charming condensation of d'Urfé's classic, colossal comedy, L'Astrée. Dupery by one flirt (Dupont) incident to the fierce fancy of another (Galland) stings a jaundiced shepherdess (Crayencour) to jilt her highborn paramour (Gillet), who in rash heartbreak attempts to drown himself in the Lignon. A trio of nymphs discover him ashore downriver, then in their castle quarter and nurse to health the sheepherder with whom their doyenne (Reymond) finds herself unreciprocally enamored. Her fellow noblewoman (Cassel) frees the herdsman from immurement, then with her druidic uncle (Renko) heartens and edifies him before a Mistletoe Festival, where the adoring drovers may be reunited by an eccentrically epicene ruse. Rohmer's casual, conversational, implicitly Christian manner is perfectly suited to the marquis de Valromey's novel, from which all save a few of many parabolic excursus are here excised. Those judiciously retained vividly illustrate values of the seventeenth century transposed by its comte de Châteauneuf to the fifth: a dispute between our lovelorn protagonist's stalwartly monogamous brother (Quivrin) and a ludic, licentious troubadour (Pauly) pits an amative argument for fidelity against hedonistic casuistry in promotion of polyamory; at a sanctified grove, Renko's delphic druid skews from physiolatry to certify a monotheism for Teutates by relegating lesser gods as mere physitheistic personifications of virtues, and posits a consubstantial divinity that prefigures Christianity's Holy Trinity. Two of the director's perpetual performers won't be overlooked by fans among his lovably lovely leads and their photogenic co-stars: one in three nymphs is Rosette, while Marie Rivière can be glimpsed as the reveling mother of Gillet's straying swain. Late in life and art, Rohmer couldn't have abridged a better story to example his final insistence that love's as much fated as physical, or spiritual as sensual.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Love in the Afternoon or The Marquise of O.


Fair

Bluebeard (2009)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Charles Perrault, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Sylvette Frydman, Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Lola Créton, Dominique Thomas, Daphné Baiwir, Marilou Lopes-Benites, Lola Giovannetti, Farida Khelfa, Isabelle Lapouge, Suzanne Foulquier, Laure Lapeyre

"Adolescence begins when children stop asking questions -- because they know all the answers."

--Evan Esar

Mutual malice differentiates Breillat's companion to her surpassing, subsequent The Sleeping Beauty from most other portrayals of the gory, Gallic fairy tale. Two little sisters of the Fourth Republic sport with stories while browsing through a cluttered attic, where the bratty junior (Lopes-Benites) frightens her sensitive senior (Giovannetti) with a reading of Perrault's parable. However, this telling strays significantly from that fabular classic: lovely sororal teens (Créton, Baiwir) boarded as a nunnery's oblates in the late seventeenth century are dismissed by their abbess (Khelfa) after their father dies by his selfless heroism; his creditors leave they and their mother (Lapouge) in penury as abject as their bereavement, but Créton's demoiselle leaps at a contiguous opportunity to wed a bloated, barbate count (Thomas) infamous for his suspected uxoricides. Once married, she luxuriates in his opulent castle while becharming her nobleman, until he intrusts to her his castle's keys ere his leave with a forbiddance not to enter one of its many rooms. Every tableau of this picture and variance from its literary source breathes symbolical significance, and Breillat's fans will readily recognize her idiomatic emblems in slaughtered fowl and accumbency abed, but the key to its burden resides in the thematic equipollence of its eponymous, crinally converse sisters. For art and awareness, the presumed "porno auteuriste" again succeeds where so many other feminist filmmakers stumble, not least because her acknowledgement of biopsychology negates the fantastic self-aggrandizement and victimization that ruined their movement. Any of Hollywood's pampered, obese activists would've distorted this folktale as an example of thwarted patriarchy, but her barbarous lord and guileful bride instead effectuate gendered modes of rapacity, reflecting an incidental intimacy and attendant regret.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Breillat's The Sleeping Beauty or those best among numerous adaptations of Bluebeard.

Brother (1997)
Directed and written by Aleksey Balabanov
Produced by Sergey Selyanov
Starring Sergey Bodrov, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Svetlana Pismichenko, Viktor Sukhorukov, Mariya Zhukova, Vyacheslav Butusov, Irina Rakshina, Sergey Murzin, Tatyana Zakharova

"I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come - if alive."

--William Tecumseh Sherman, letter to Ulysses S. Grant, 1864.3.10

Not to be confused with Kitano's underwhelming, cross-cultural Yakuza flick shot stateside a few years later, Balabanov's grimy crime drama was a domestic hit as much for its depiction of Russia's chaotic zeitgeist as its crafty economy. At the insistence of their mother (Zakharova), a tough, resourceful young veteran (Bodrov) of the First Chechen War peregrinates to St. Petersburg to reunite with his big brother (Sukhorukov), a freelance assassin employed by local gangsters. For his enterprise, martial invention and tactical cunning, he betters his sibling's success as a slippery gun for hire, but soon finds that urban life is as spiritually insidious as remuneratory. When he isn't greasing culprits of low character, the gifted gunsel beds a battered housewife (Pismichenko), troops with a trendy druggie (Zhukova) and an aging, weathered, German chapman (Kuznetsov) who resides in a Lutheran cemetery, and fixates on, attends a performance by and encounters at a party his new favorite band, Nautilus Pompilius, who provide most of the picture's music. Armed to kill with discrimination checked by rectitude and a CD steadily spinning waist-high in his Discman (an accessory of any upright young man in the '90s), Bodrov's felon is for his farouche humor, adaptability, fraternal fidelity and uncertain circumstances an embodiment of the plights and pertinacity that typified the ethos of young Russians during their nation's post-Soviet tumult. Practiced portrayals and St. Petersburg's backdrop contribute to this little landmark's plausibility, but its youthful audiences came for excitement and returned to see one of their own heroized for a principled criminality.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Three Days of the Condor, Le choc or Brother 2.

Cube (1997)
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Written by Vincenzo Natali, André Bijelic, Graeme Manson
Produced by Mehra Meh, Betty Orr, Colin Brunton
Starring Nicole de Boer, David Hewlett, Maurice Dean Wint, Nicky Guadagni, Andrew Miller, Wayne Robson
Natali's cult favorite requires little introduction, but that anglophonic score who've yet to see it probably won't be disappointed by this misadventure of a seasoned recidivist (Robson), police officer (Wint), draftsman (Hewlett), student (de Boer), physician (Guadagni) and autist (Miller) mysteriously waking within and collectively struggling to escape from a massive matrix comprised of interconnected cubic rooms. For whoever can decipher them, the integral or Cartesian signification of triplex trinumerals printed within each room's six doorways seemingly signify which contain deadly traps not necessarily more hazardous than the strange sextet's internecine umbrage and paranoia. Not as sophisticated as it's become, Natali's tolerable direction isn't half as imaginative as his, Bijelic's, and Manson's script, as much for its geometrically Gordian setting and diegetic twists as its characterizations of distinct personal types altered by extreme pressure in prickly situations: the pessimism of Hewlett's omega gifts him with a surprising fortitude; at first wholly dependent, de Boer's beta proves herself as essential a mathematician as an intermediary; Robson's sigma is laid low early to leave the survivors without their most resourceful member; at first a natural leader, Wint's alpha is reduced by petty indignation and encroaching madness into a Procrustean tyrant; Guadagni's skittish, shrewish gamma unearths an unexpectedly quasi-maternal affection for Miller's autistic savant, who's in possession of a vital verve he can't use alone. Against Jasna Stefanovic's superbly impersonal, industrial production design, the cast's porcine performances contrast oddly well, and for what they lack in realism and restraint, they compensate with photogenic presence. Comparably, CG by effects firm C.O.R.E. is noticeably artificial, but smartly designed. This sleeper found its audiences via home video and nonstop cablecast on the Sci-Fi Channel in the '90s; it's now just as omnipresent on streaming channels and worth watching -- first for fun, then again for details you might've missed.

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
Directed and written by Werner Herzog
Produced by Randall M. Boyd, Henry Kaiser, Tree Wright, Julian P. Hobbs, Andrea Meditch, Erik Nelson, Phil Fairclough, Dave Harding
Starring Werner Herzog, Samuel S. Bowser, David Ainley, Clive Oppenheimer, William McIntosh, Olav T. Oftedal, Regina Eisert, Libor Zicha, Kevin Emery, David R. Pacheco Jr., Jan Pawlowski, Peter Gorham
For mundivagant Herzog, Earth's final, frigid frontier was an inevitable destination nearly a century after explorers Roald Amundsen, then Robert Falcon Scott planted their respective Norwegian and British flags at that desolate destination. This documentary's finest sights are transcendent for meditative shots of chaste polar landscapes and watery wonders, but it's too often derailed when Herzog's narration or worst subjects digress absurdly. Vintage footage of the terminal impasse that stymied Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and destroyed his ship Endurance, and the subsequent hardship of his crew's grueling passage to South Georgia Island is cleverly juxtaposed with that of a humongous omnibus driven for the convenience of passengers at McMurdo Sound by one Scott Rowland, who relates one of his adventures in Guatemala. Rowland and McMurdo station's forklift operator Stefan Pashov are two of numerous roving professionals who seem to constitute a majority of Ross Island's population; the latter fancifully proposes that zetetics are by commonalities impelled to convergence at their southernmost post. In the austral summer's five months of constant daylight, the station's industrial hideosity contrasts with the stark beauty of Ross Island and the Ross Sea. To escape it and its amenities (dully comfortable residential quarters, a bowling alley, an aerobic studio) that repulse him, Herzog departs for several field camps after one Kevin Emery mandatorily trains him and other newcomers in the rudimentary construction of snowy trenches and igloos (wherein trainees are required to sleep overnight) and cooperative navigation via lifeline in conditions where visibility and audibility are null. Nutritional ecologist Olav Oftedal and his crew study the dietary peculiarities of docile, roly-poly Weddell seals, extracting with a forcible yet harmless method from nursing cows a milk of uncommon viscosity and chemical composition noted by physiologist Regina Eisert. An utter silence common to the vicinity of Oftedal's station is often broken by phocine vocalizations in waters six feet beneath it: resonant whirrs, burbles, blips and howls that could be mistaken for those generated by an analog synthesizer. At the mainland's coast, cellular biologist Samuel Bowser quietly exudes either anxiety or melancholy on the occasion of his last antarctic dive, during which he observes exotic fauna and flora in gelid immersion. From another dive ensuing toilsome drilling and detonation elsewhere, three captured specimens are genetically determined by zoologist Jan Pawlowski to be of theretofore unknown foraminiferal species. Slow and static shots of Shackleton's hutch reveal it unchanged over a century, one of a faded empire's innumerable proto-civilizational relics. Further, a monument erected alongside the numerous flags raised at the south pole commemorates Amundsen's and Scott's pioneering attainments...though Herzog can't help but bemoan this progress and a presumptive loss of its site's pristine serenity, a value that's never qualified. Cocks of a waddle wait on eggs for hens to return at Cape Royds, where Herzog interviews eremitic marine biologist David Ainley, who graciously replies to an asinine question regarding homosexual penguins with his observations of polyamory and transactional congress in the colony. A visit to Mt. Erebus finds volcanologist and geochronologist William McIntosh displaying and demonstrating the functionality of a rugged observational camera designed to withstand explosions, emplaced to monitor the volcano's lava lake. Tasked with examination of the volcano's gaseous emissions, his subordinate colleague Clive Oppenheimer historically contextualizes the relative severity of known volcanism. Our impressionable filmmaker's existential despondence, now inspired by climatic pseudoscience repeatedly reworked and consistently unproven over the course of a half-century, spoils what could've been a pleasantly amusing scene: in a frozen subterranean passage leading to the precise center of the South Pole, two workers deposit a frozen sturgeon in a niche opposite another garlanded with strung popcorn, containing little floral prints...while Werner the doomsayer verbalizes a stale, silly scenario in which extraterrestrials visit the niche perhaps a millennium following mankind's extinction. Finally, physicists led by Dr. Peter Gorham launch an enormous balloon to loft instruments constructed to detect neutrinos above any distractions of terrestrial electricity.
Sublimed by the ethereal vocal plangency of Dragostinov's Planino Stara Planino Mari performed by The Philip Koutev National Folk Ensemble, and Alexander Sedov's rendition of Bortnyansky's Retche Gospod Gospodevi Moyemu, among others, this picture's underwater and underground highlights are extraordinary for deft exhibition of the former's magnificent aquatic biota, and in both icy formations submersed and caverned -- those latter accessed though fumaroles by McIntosh's spelunking team. If these speechless sequences characterize Herzog at his best, redundant commentary by his interviewees and his pestilentially pessimistic narration represent the worst he has to offer. Some of Pashov's philosophical musings are mildly interesting, while others are as negligible as the dreams that glaciologist Doug MacAyeal recalls before addressing his far more intriguing surveyal of a calving iceberg (B-15). David Pacheco is McMurdo station's demonstrably adept plumber, who bloviates about his allegedly Aztec ancestry and more environmental paranoia, but not his duties there. Linguist William Jirsa recounts how he came to keep the station's greenhouse, and he's only marginally more occupying than Karen Joyce, whose African and South American extravagations decades before was surely as perilously imprudent as it's tediously told. Earlier scenes show two seemingly pathetic penguins mysteriously, intractably bound for the mainland's interior and their likely quietus; one can imagine Herzog's apposition of these apparently disoriented birds with the errant baizuo vacuously reporting their own misadventures. Those subatomic particles that Dr. Gorham tracks and describes are enthralling, but his own gushing fascination with them is not. One bright exception is Libor Zicha, a machinist still visibly haunted by trauma suffered during the Cold War, who keeps an impressively comprehensive survival kit in a rucksack at his side at all times. An extraneous interview of irritatingly ingenious publicity hound Ashrita Furman comprises a most glaringly inapposite aside.
This might've been another of Herzog's documentary masterworks, but it's marred by the trendy and sentimental faults that so endear it to Anglophones. His undue familiarity, rambling, risible ruminations and desultory indulgences might be apropos to one of Errol Morris's features, but for them this 100 minutes is a fifth padded and hardly so graceful than it should be. Unlike the foregoing sacred music, Henry Kaiser's and David Lindley's score is almost unbearably grating. So untypically personal, unprofessional and subjective is it that its conclusive dedication to Roger Ebert comes as no surprise.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Into the Inferno or Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010)
Directed by Dmitry Vasyukov, Werner Herzog
Written by Dmitry Vasyukov, Werner and Rudolph Herzog
Produced by Vladimir Perepelkin, Christoph Fisser, Nick N. Raslan, Charlie Woebcken, Thomas Nickel, Robyn Klein, Werner Herzog, Yanko Damboulev, Timur Bekmambetov, Klaus Badelt
Starring Gennady Soloviev, Anatoly Blume, Anatoly Tarkovsky, Nikolay Nikiforovitch Siniaev, Werner Herzog
Not despite but for their travails do the isolated inhabitants of Siberia's frigid forests delight in rural survival. Vasyukov's televised documentary of four seasonal episodes is freshly compressed and concatenated, lushly (if excessively) scored by Klaus Badelt and narrated by Herzog with his usual phlegm as a feature uncovering a challenging, cheerful life of denizens from the village Bakhta in Russia's Turukhansky district, specifically those of rugged outdoorsmen (Soloviev, Blume, Siniaev, Tarkovsky) therefrom who handily eke out subsistence as trappers, hunters and fishers in the snowy, sylvan sprawl well beyond their little community's bourne. During this region's snowed spring, Soloviev cares compassionately for pups, curs, and seasoned hunting dogs alike of his doggery, fells a tree to split wood from it that'll later be fashioned into skis, contrives by carving and sets from two slender trees a deadfall of cunning design, perorates of his methodology and tools, denounces greedily unethical trappers, and rehearses his first onerous Siberian season forty years antecedent, which he scarcely survived. Blume conterminously shovels towering mounds of snow from the roof of one hut among several outlying a central shack within his designated territory (a configuration typical of all the trappers' winter dwellings), and collects firewood. While the vast ice floes constituting the surface of the Bakhta River (and Yenisei River of which it's a tributary) begin to flow north, children of the village skate about on thawing ice before their community first celebrates Maslenitsa by dancing and burning a straw, female effigy of winter, then Victory Day a week later, when wreaths are laid at the headstones of veterans who perished in WWII. One experienced Ket craftsman and an apprentice carve, widen, temper and pay with traditional methods canoes from tree trunks that are then boarded on exordial expeditions to train pups for future hunts, and with submerged toils catch fish, the choicest of which are smoked to be eaten later. Beasts and greenery emerge in profusion come summer, when fishing yields jumbo pike, and hunters collaborate to construct new central and collateral cabins while beset by swarms of mosquitoes, which are repelled by a topical concoction of tar distilled from birch bark and cut by immixture with fish oil. With the aforementioned wood split in the prior season, Soloviev and his son skillfully saw, carve, steep, flex and temper several pairs of skis. Driftwood collected upriver is towed to the shore, where Kets without occupational options chop and load it onto a truck's bed. Although this Yeniseian minority's elders struggle to preserve fading traditions, its community is mired in poverty, alcoholism, and resultant mischances. During comparatively warm days spanning twenty hours each, plentiful gardens are cultivated and planted, greenhouses mended, and chipmunks, sables and malleting, grinding, sifting humans all collect pine nuts from cones. Late in the season, an incumbent, regional candidate campaigns by cabotage, arriving at Bakhta's shore to tempt his largely indifferent constituency with a largesse of wheat and promises of reform before belting out a pop song with a trio of pretty female singers to entertain some congregated children and teenagers. Walls of stacked firewood, a massive harvest of fruits and vegetables planted months afore, and thousands of freshwater fish netted along the shoreline or lured by fire nocturnally to be leistered all portend autumn's advent. As the great Yenisei River rises for constant rainfall, and before its surface freezes, the hunters load their sleds and snowmobiles, dogs and provisions into canoes to convey them to their shanties; in high water, the rapids' fluxion often can't be countered by these boats' offboard motors, and exact for some such as Soloviev and his son manually arduous navigation. After they part, the elder trapper repairs damage inflicted by bears to one cabana, reposits there comestibles, shoots a woodcock and feeds its neck and feet to his dogs. While the rivers flow, pike are primarily caught to be fed to canines. Forbidding Tarkovsky (a junior cognate of Andrei) hunts and fishes with effectual craft, caches by suspension and elevation bread, grits, sugar and other aliments where neither bears nor mice can reach them, extols the simple pleasures of his lifestyle and sets mechanical slings to catch game. Soloviev expatiates on the ideal lineage, proper rearing, and necessity of dogs to any able hunter before one of his own predates a marten that he expels from a fallen, hollowed trunk. Winter finds the village's anonymous blacksmith forging a sharp shaft used to pierce the river's icy surface and enable more subaqueous fishing. During these most trying months of sustained yet stimulating slog, two events showcase the mettle of these woodsmen and their canine companions: fatigued after a day's labor, Blume retires to an ancillary hut to find its roof marred by a downed tree, which he chops and removes before clearing snow from his roof to repair it with immediate and laborious effort during his dwindling dusk; en route on his snowmobile to Bakhta where he'll sojourn with his family during its New Year's and Christmas festivities, he's chased over 90 miles by his dog to their home -- a feat as formidable for the animal's stamina as poignant for its loyalty. Vasyukov's subjects represent a rustic society's admirably hardy traditionalism, ably and objectively pictured here with fine photography and profoundly personal interviews that patefy an independence and integrity too uncommon in the developed world.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Encounters at the End of the World.

One of Us (2017)
Directed by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Produced by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, Alex Takats, Liz F. Mason
Starring Etty, Ari Hershkowitz, Luzer Twersky, Chani Getter, Yosef Rapaport
Ostracism and contingent harassment await whoever dares to leave Brooklyn's Hasidic community, as explicitly related by a trio of such deserters in extensive interviews and observations. Pseudonymous Etty struggles to retain custody of her seven children after forsaking a routinely ill-arranged marriage to an abusive and unloving husband, and finds some comfort in a support group organized for therapeutic congregation of other whilom Hasidim. Still reeling from the harrowing humiliation of his public pedication and shunned by former friends, Hershkowitz revels in newfound freedom before and after his recovery from an addiction to cocaine. Aspiring actor Twersky ekes emolument as a driver for Uber where he's resettled in Los Angeles, residing in a parked RV and willingly typecast in Hasidic roles to assert his individuality and distance himself from the ex-wife and offspring he's left behind. Ewing's and Grady's prior feature on religious extremists was the amusive, hyperbolically marketed Jesus Camp, which presented a laughable evangelical summer camp and its silly, sanctimonious attendees as unduly significant, and was strategically edited either by the filmmakers or their co-producers to nearly omit extensive evidence of their subjects' unrequited fealty to Israel. Slickly shot, scored, cut and titled, this dour documentary finds them in better form, exploring how the cultish Hasidic tribe sustains its traditions, security and continuity by means both kind and cruel, commanding private schools, ambulances and a police force to support one another and enforce their precepts while domiciled in Brooklyn's best subsidized housing. Both the mistreatment they've suffered and curiosity concerning the outside world fortify the resolve of these three anathemas, who pine for past fellowship while basking in the United States' secular liberty. None of them were at all prepared for life beyond Brooklyn, all speaking English second to Yiddish, nearly innumerate for the calculatedly selective deficiencies of their education, and as ignorant of the Internet for its proscription -- a bitter irony in light of the Ashkenazic affinities for mathematics and online entrepreneurialism. Geller (who organizes the aforementioned support group) expounds how the uncompromising stringency of Hasidic piety and insularity is as much a reaction to the sect's decimation during the Holocaust as devoted abidance by its tenets. Reactions of Hasidim to those who've abandoned their fold vary depending on their circumstances. Etty's persistently terrorized by her husband and his family, and threatened with the loss of her parity because nomistic Hasidim can collectively afford the lawyers she can't. All but isolated for his abandonment, Hershkowitz is advised by one of his community's friendly yet firm elders (Rapaport), who voices compunction for his adversity and disapproval that it wasn't redressed, but also admonition for his relatively liberal lifestyle and existential and theological inquisitiveness. Those few acquaintances from whom Twersky isn't estranged only treat him with stilted civility. Outside the Islamic world, tergiversation is seldom met with such alienation, but these are not apostates: notwithstanding Hershkowitz's doubts of divinity, they're all practicing Jews more dedicated to dogma than most. This picture's portrayal of Hasidim discloses of them qualities seemingly paradoxic: they're at once scholarly and stagnant, loyal yet parasitic, neurotically fanatical in their crusade to resist modern, godless progress in a manner less extreme but far more aggressively adamant than that of the Amish. Ewing, Grady and their interviewees impart that this enclave needs to change -- not to neglect or degrade their customs or consecration, nor to intromit outsiders or their culture, but to mend and forfend ingrained cycles of domestic and institutional abuse. If a stable society requires accountability, then a fortiori is it indispensable for any so closed.

The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
Directed by Jerry Schatzberg
Written by James Mills, John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion
Produced by Dominick Dunne, Roger M. Rothstein
Starring Kitty Winn, Al Pacino, Alan Vint, Richard Bright, Kiel Martin, Michael McClanathan, Warren Finnerty, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Raul Julia
No PSA, educational short or after school special yet produced has matched the gruesome verisimilitude of this monitory classic. From a failed relationship with her former inamorato (Julia) and the traumatically unprofessional abortion to which it culminated, a jaded, ailing, aimless miss (Winn) rebounds into the sphere of a charming drug dealer and petty thief (Pacino), who shares with her a mutual affection and appetite for heroin that she readily adopts. Their complete immersion (with the audience) into a decisive, dehumanizing, sordid stupor dependent on every critical, forthcoming fix provokes degradation, disloyalties and disasters, draining from them both love and liveliness to leave a relationship first radiantly adoring a vacant and toughened husk. Mills' graphically harrowing, bipartite, photographic exposé on narcotic subculture published in Life constituted the basis for his novel fictionalizing the notorious lifestyles of addicts who congregated regularly at Verdi Square and Sherman Square in Manhattan's upper west side; after Dominick Dunne purchased the book's filmic rights from Avco Embassy to extend his cinematic career, his brother John and famed sister-in-law Didion aptly adapted the realism of its terse dialogue and sickening squalor to a script as fit for cinéma vérité as any realized during the begrimed blossom of New Hollywood. Schatzberg's own career as a top-flight photographer is evinced in his compositional expertise and dispassionate manner. A broad latitude accorded his players sunk his debut feature of a year anterior, the handsomely crafted but dramatically inert Puzzle of a Downfall Child. In their leading premieres, Pacino and Winn flourish for Schatzberg where Faye Dunaway flailed, so perfectly, personably plausible that certain inobservant theatergoers mistook this gritty fiction for a documentary. From his junkie's disarming sweetness to raging desperation, Pacino hasn't a sour note in him to spoil this first great performance, itself quietly overshadowed at every turn by Winn's wide-eyed vulnerability, best expressed in silent shots yet brimming with laconic import. Of course, this success was followed by decades of his superstardom and her cult renown on stage and screen. Bright shone in sleazy roles paired with or without everyone's favorite diminutive Sicilian, here credibly scummy as Pacino's brother, who'd sell his family or anyone else's for diacetylmorphinic respite. A half-century since it's launched two fine celebrities, no other movie (certainly not Aronofsky's clownish, grossly overestimated Requiem for a Dream) so vividly pictures the vile vitiation heroin afflicts upon one's morals, mind and body.

Train to Busan (2016)
Directed by Sang-ho Yeon
Written by Sang-ho Yeon, Joo-Suk Park
Produced by Dong-Ha Lee, Yeon-ho Kim, Woo-taek Kim
Starring Yoo Gong, Su-an Kim, Dong-seok Ma, Yu-mi Jung, Gwi-hwa Choi, Eui-sung Kim, Woo-sik Choi, Ahn So-hee, Soo-jung Ye, Myung-shin Park, Seok-yong Jeong, Hyuk-jin Jang
Conformable to the deadly undead of O'Bannon's and Boyle's classics, twitching, predatory zombies in Yeon's first live-action feature rush ravenously to bloodily propagate their pandemic, imperiling within its cramped linear quarters a bullet train's passengers (Ma, Jung, Choi, So-hee, et al.), who can only survive by manipulating the ghouls' cognitive limitations and stimuli. Trauma and teamwork educe an uncharacteristic heroism in one such traveler, a callous careerist (Gong) in transit with his daughter (Kim); in slightly unlike circumstances, one cruelly unscrupulous executive (Kim) inversely preserves himself at the fatal expense of his acquaintances. With substantial characters credibly rendered by a solid cast, inventive suspense tautened in a swift situational succession, and action deftly choreographed, shot and cut, this glossy international hit justifies both its hype and sociopersonal themes as overt as Romero's to chastise corporate cupidity and baneful self-interest with characterizations more believable than any that celebrated, satirical schlockmeister ever penned. A horde of flailing and gnashing supernumeraries complement the leads well with uninhibited mordacity, especially in a few instances when their numbers swell scrambling, scrabbling, snarling by dint of CG superior to conspicuously artificial graphics beheld in Hollywood's overbudgeted, superheroic trash. That this past decade's only zombified flick worth watching is a South Korean production seems unavoidable, and though some of its sentiment's sweetened saccharine by that schmaltz from Seoul during heartfelt moments and especially its emotive climax, it's relatively palatable when expressed by a refreshingly appealing dramatis personae unimaginable in a contemporary, major motion picture produced anywhere in the Anglosphere. Even better, Yeon dispenses with that slush for a truly moving conclusion.
Recommended for a double feature paired with 28 Days Later or Seoul Station, Yeon's animated prequel.

Tricked (2012)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Written by Kim van Kooten, Paul Verhoeven, Robert Alberdingk Thijm, Anne Karina Westerik, Esther Schmidt, Kenneth Dingens, Tamara Bosma, Renee Van Amerongen, Martijn Daamen, Fleur Jansen, Sander Blom, et alia
Produced by Mardou Jacobs, René Mioch, Justus Verkerk
Starring Peter Blok, Gaite Jansen, Ricky Koole, Robert de Hoog, Jochum ten Haaf, Pieter Tiddens, Sallie Harmsen, Carolien Spoor, Ronald van Elderen

"Few men would be deceived if their conceit of themselves did not help the skill of those that go about it."

--Marquis of Halifax, Cheats

Viewers of this brief feature's first few prefatory minutes scripted by Van Kooten submitted thousands of continuative scenarios, from which diegetic devices were garbled, then integrated into the densely, tidily plotted shooting script of Verhoeven's first good flick in twenty years. The semicentennial birthday of a shaky construction firm's founder and CEO (Blok) is disrupted by attendances of his scheming partners (Haaf, Tiddens) and erstwhile, evidently enceinte mistress (Harmsen). In its aftermath, their revelations threaten to profitably unravel his professional life and business, but a backstair percontation by his stolid son (Hoog) and the flirty friend (Jansen) of his his dumpy, drunken daughter (Spoor) exposes connivance, though almost everyone involved is peccant for deceit. Staged, shot and acted with polished assurance at a brisk pace, this small production finds Verhoeven back in good form after his wearisome succession of doltish, bloated blockbusters stateside and in his native Netherlands, wasting not one of its sexy, silly fifty-five minutes, even if half of the twists recurring every five are too predictable.

Would You Rather (2012)
Directed by David Guy Levy
Written by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen
Produced by Zak Kilberg, David Guy Levy, Maura Anderson, Ivy Isenberg, Gus Krieger, Andre Royo, Hector Tinoco, Brittany Snow, Morgan Conrad
Starring Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Enver Gjokaj, Charlie Hofheimer, Jonny Coyne, Eddie Steeples, Sasha Grey, Robin Lord Taylor, June Squibb, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Robb Wells, John Heard, Logan Miller

"Too many people have decided to do without generosity in order to practice charity."

--Albert Camus, The Fall

Unemployment, suddenly deceased parents, their home to be sold, and an ailing brother's (Miller) mortal need of a costly transplant are cumbers shouldered by a young woman (Snow) invited with seven other unfortunates to a soiree hosted by a wealthy, convivial sadist (Combs) whose regale is tainted by his humiliating exploitations of their frailties -- a preamble to the titular parlor game that incites their capacities for malefaction to win far more than patronage from their gleefully twisted benefactor. At its best, Levy's thriller excites in viewers its victims' palpable pressures and dread for his subtly effective direction, Schlachtenhaufen's wickedly felicitous script and a cast of fresh and familiar faces that hit nearly all their marks within the polished, luxuriant sumptuousness of Frank Brown's artisanal mansion, Artemesia. Least among them is the consistently wooden Grey, aptly cast as the most trashy, cruel, candid contestant, whose transitional participation was clearly earned by her alternative oral competency. Diametrically, the hilarious and masterful flamboyance rendered by veteran genre ham Combs keenly characterizes his nabob's iniquitous indulgence formalized with casual etiquette and rationalized as a sincere fascination with the transgressive extremes of social psychology. Taylor's nearly so risible and repulsive as his rankly rotten scion, whose vicious addiction to wanton abuse clashes with daddy's decorous depravity. A few instances of propagandistic portrayal and proximity fulfilled by racially calculated casting are as conspicuous as anything one might see on network television; Combs' and Coyne's WASPy villains are less inaccurate than passé in an era when those most egregious of our intriguing, inept elites are as disproportionately, plainly porkless as the director and some of his co-producers. Withal, it's no less a morbidly droll or direful entertainment that brutally fictionalizes the sheer, stratified vice lurking behind so many charitable veneers. Only a handful of movies produced outside Japan and Korea compel indurated audiences to wince and laugh in alternation or simultaneity; this one does well before you'll realize that the losers of its competing guests aren't leaving alive.

XXY (2007)
Directed by Lucía Puenzo
Written by Sergio Bizzio, Lucía Puenzo
Produced by Luis Puenzo, José María Morales, Carla Pelligra, Fernando Sirianni, Fabienne Vonier
Starring Inés Efron, Ricardo Darín, Martín Piroyansky, Valeria Bertuccelli, Germán Palacios, Carolina Pelleritti, Guillermo Angelelli, Ailín Salas, Luciano Nóbile
Had this movie been produced but six or seven years ulterior, at the advent of a transmania aggressively propagandized by mass media outlets in the western hemisphere, it might not have enjoyed global distribution, for Puenzo's straight, sympathetic treatment of the gynandromorphic condition belies every delusional jeremiad loudly publicized via social media by pre-op lunatics and a minority of legitimately transsexual exhibitionists fomented by this wholly calculated craze. At their home on the Uruguayan seashore, the family of a froward, adolescent androgyne (Efron) is, for an invitation by her mother (Bertuccelli), visited by an imperious, accomplished cosmetic surgeon (Palacios) with his wife (Pelleritti) and sensitive son (Piroyansky), whose fleeting friendship with the huffy hermaphrodite enables an unusual exploration of their inchoate sexuality. Otherwise, this visitation broaches the ineludible question of whether she'll submit to sexual assignment after abjuring antiandrogens for weeks, an option that her father (Darín), a marine biologist, opposes in concern for her welfare. As directorial forays come, this adaptation of Bizzio's short story finds Argentine cinema's most fortunate daughter living up to her father's reputation by capably balancing subjective compassion with the indisputable medical and social consequences of a fascinating chromosomal anomaly. Dialogue's nearly as minimal here as in her future pictures, and tyros Efron and Piroyansky were as histrionically consummate as old stagers Darín, Palacios, Pelleritti, Bertuccelli, et al., all subtly expressive in complete characterizations, especially during gazing and glancing caesurae. Her composition and continuity are as professional as Puenzo's direction of her cast; alas, Natasha Braier's cinematography, which includes sweeping vistas of the southern cone's seacoast and offing, is uglified by the applications of green and blue filters. Satisfyingly, Bizzio's conclusion affirms biological primacy and deliberated discretion over suspect medical trends. Maybe nature's irregularities aren't always errors.
Efron and Salas were effectively recast in Puenzo's second feature, The Fish Child.


Average

Back in Action (1994)
Directed by Steve DiMarco, Paul Ziller
Written by Karl Schiffman
Produced by George Flak, Rae Crombie, Allan Levine
Starring Roddy Piper, Billy Blanks, Bobbie Phillips, Kai Soremekun, Matt Birman, Nigel Bennett, Damon D'Oliveira, Rob Stefaniuk, Sam Malkin
Supererogative emphasis on that titular action forms and fills to its brim the paltry plot of this desipiently diverting B-grade actioner pairing its strapping pro wrestler and expert exerciser turned action stars. Cliches compel and conjoin in vengeance a police detective (Piper) whose partner was messily slain and a veteran of the Special Forces (Blanks) violently striving to locate his presumably kidnapped, senselessly injudicious sister (Soremekun), who choke, clout, kick, flip, slam, stab, stomp, throw, shoot and defenestrate a horde of henchmen resembling barmen, bikers, janitors, electricians, street magicians, Michael Bolton, G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band, and the Super Mario Brothers to confront the Final Boss, a natty, minaciously eccentric drug lord (Bennett) and his greasily merciless coadjutor (Birman) bedizened with nocturnal sunglasses and a medallion. They hardly duplicate that macho magic nailed by Piper and Keith David when memorably brutalizing each other, brooding together and slaughtering extraterrestrial cops and yuppies in They Live, but the lovably lunky Canadian grappler is nicely complemented by beefy Blanks, who ably performs most of his flying stunts and...recites his lines clearly. The entire cast amuse deliberately and otherwise, especially toothily toothsome Soremekun, whose mobster's moll could scarcely be more absent in her vestural frivolity to her impending peril. As intentionally funny as not, this caboose of the '80s' explosive glut is, subject entirely to one's palate, delightful or discomfiting, perhaps both. As vital viewing for fans of either lead, it hasn't a dull or sensible second.
Recommended for a double feature paired with They Live or Hell Comes to Frogtown.

Babes in Toyland (1986)
Directed by Clive Donner
Written by Glen MacDonough, Paul Zindel
Produced by Tony Ford, Neil T. Maffeo, Anthony Spinner, Bill Finnegan, Patricia Finnegan, Sheldon Pinchuk
Starring Drew Barrymore, Richard Mulligan, Keanu Reeves, Jill Schoelen, Googy Gress, Pat Morita, Eileen Brennan, Walter Buschhoff, Shari Weiser, Rolf Knie, Gaston Häni, Pipo Sosman, Chad Carlson
Middling production values and design, clever yet unmemorable musical numbers and plenteous daffy havoc distinguish this sweet yet slight televised adaptation of Victor Herbert's and Glen MacDonough's fabular operetta from its six predecessors. One inanely implausible automotive accident during a blizzard on Christmas Eve delivers a preteen (Barrymore) to a fantastic municipality resembling a tidy, second-rate theme park populated by bipedally anthropomorphic animals and characters from nursery rhymes to unite a pair of lovers (Reeves, Schoelen), learn a few lessons from a magian artisan (Morita) in Santa's employ, and thwart the maniacally pleonexic designs of a feathered, usurious scoundrel (Mulligan). For adults, entertainment resides in these principals' alternately wooden and hammy delivery, and Donner's perfunctory direction leaves but a bit to the imagination, but this musical's adequate for families whose wee ones aren't yet terribly demanding, fans of America's favorite little addict when she was still only incipiently corrupt, and anyone apt to ogle Reeves and Schoelen for their pulchritude. Brennan's comic timing exceeds that of her co-stars, but she's granted regrettably scanty screen time. Don't expect much of Herbert's music, which is quoted occasionally in Leslie Bricusse's score and songs. Two versions were broadcast in the United States and Germany, respectively running 140 and 95 minutes; the condensed shorter of these is commonly available on videocassette and videodisc, though both are streamed by various services.
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Wizard of Oz or Disney's superior Babes in Toyland.

Bless the Child (2000)
Directed by Chuck Russell
Written by Cathy Cash Spellman, Thomas Rickman, Clifford Green, Ellen Green
Produced by Mace Neufeld, Stratton Leopold, Bruce Davey, Lis Kern, Robert Rehme
Starring Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Holliston Coleman, Rufus Sewell, Angela Bettis, Christina Ricci, Michael Gaston, Lumi Cavazos, Dimitra Arliss, Eugene Lipinski, Anne Betancourt, Ian Holm, Helen Stenborg
Who would've guessed that a supposedly autistic, wonderworking ginger (Coleman) birthed and deserted within a fortnight by a junkie (Bettis) and raised lovingly by a psychiatric nurse (Basinger) in her sister's stead was destined to fulfill some unspecified, pivotal prophecy? Only an unctuous self-help guru (Sewell), who instructs his Luciferian cult to locate, slay and brand children of NYC sharing her birthday until they identify by her thaumaturgy the Delphian tot, and deliver her by abduction to their heresiarch's corrupting claptrap. Less dopey than but just as predictable as coetaneous Stigmata or End of Days, Russell's briskly paced and constantly conventional religious thriller has as little sense as doctrine, but it's entertaining enough as a vehicle for its gracefully aging leading lady. Smits is fitly typecast as a federal agent whose investigation of the serial juvecides leads him into the orbit of Basinger's aunt, as are perennially ghoulish Bettis as her sordidly squirrely sister and Ricci, half as sleazy in the recreant role of another heroin addict. Holm's fugaciously frittered late in the second act, playing a crippled, defrocked Jesuit who paraphrases Baudelaire's famously reiterated quote and furnishes vatical exposition in a bogus brogue. Despite Peter Menzies Jr.'s warmly attractive photography, most of the interiors are consistently overlit. Spuriously digital rats, winged demons and a cameo by Beelzebub himself are qualitatively comparable to figures of a video game's cutscene, but a trio of volatile, irradiant angels (resembling those mortally recorded in Brainstorm) are prettily imaged without physitheistic banality during the picture's climax. Neither Spellman nor the adapting screenwriters bothered to research European sorcery, here misattributed to druids of the 16th century and Hebraically incanted by Sewell's reprobate! For fans of Basinger, still felicific and photogenic well into her fifth decade, or of genre pictures that treat of their extramundane subject with moderate religiosity and theurgy, this passable, periodically preposterous pic should fit the bill.

Class Action (1990)
Directed by Michael Apted
Written by Samantha Shad, Carolyn Shelby, Christopher Ames
Produced by Robert W. Cort, Ted Field, Scott Kroopf, Christopher Ames, Carolyn Shelby, Kim Kurumada Starring Gene Hackman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Colin Friels, Joanna Merlin, Laurence Fishburne, Donald Moffat, Jan Rubes, Matt Clark, Fred Dalton Thompson, Jonathan Silverman, Joan McMurtrey, Anne Ramsay

"Lawyers with a weakness for seeing the merits of the other side end up being employed by neither."

--Richard J. Barnet, Roots of War, 1971

Conflicts of interest, filial gall and malversation taint a civil suit in which 150+ plaintiffs who've suffered third-degree burns and loss of limbs and loved ones from a station wagon's elusive yet replicable, often fatal flaw are represented by a lawyerly firebrand (Hackman) renowned for his demagogic shifts and advocacy for underdogs in the cause of civil rights, opposed by his disaffected daughter (Mastrantonio), a viciously efficient litigator serving as counsel of a top-grade firm to the carmaker. When it isn't yawing into embarrassingly soppy contretemps, Apted's juridic drama works well its eminent cast in the service of a sensational story's gravamen, all but undone by periodic, incredibly sloppy dialogue in a script that was treated for five years in twenty-five drafts! Authenticity endued to its most engrossing legal details is likely attributable to Shad, a civilist and attorney familiar with the knotty pitfalls of such cases. Regrettably, too much running time is spent in living rooms and offices, and too little in courtrooms before the climactic third act, and at least fifteen of these one hundred and ten minutes are alloted to unpalatably saccharine filler. Only faltering for delivery of their very worst lines, Hackman, Mastrantonio and most of the supporting cast are otherwise as excellent as expected, mirabile visu when judicially sparring. Effectively reprising his corporate crook from Darkman sans slaughterous intent and Raimi's high camp, Friels is divertingly conniving and not without some genuine humanity as an accessary partner in Mastrantonio's firm and bedroom, but both are bettered by Moffat, whose stiffly upstage bearing as their chief counsel precludes any notion of another in the role. Similarly, Thompson smoothly underplays an unconscionable automotive supervisor clearly unruffled by incidental deaths; would that Jan Rubes (who isn't half so hammy here as in Dead of Winter) weren't so goofy as one of his former electrical engineers, a witness as vital as stultifiable. All of this picture's best and worst traits can be observed in a few microcosmic, consecutive scenes early in its second act: after Hackman's wife and Mastrantonio's mother (Merlin) mawkishly expires at the steps of a courthouse's concourse, her sequent funeral's almost unendurable for its gospel atmosphere and an anecdote recounted in Hackman's eulogy, which both beggar bathos of ordinary conception. After sharing a pleasant, private dinner, father and daughter essay to casually overcome their estrangement before her acrimony surfaces regarding his extramarital infidelities and professional repercussions, and an ensuing feud showcases both performers at the plausible pinnacle of their powers, both hitting their marks with reciprocal timing and expression as credible as any they've delivered...until this affray culminates to a cliche as corny as a contrivance from Law & Order's seventh season. That it so often descends into such mush is truly unfortunate, for this movie posits insights not explored in too many others: how calculation of actuarial expenses inspires automotive manufacturers to expose their emptors to terrible risk; that personal tragedy may eventuate from even the most noble judicatory achievement; how the sanctimony of social activism too often veils and feeds an inherently selfish nature; inadvertently, that common careerism can't be conciliated with a healthy personal and particularly familial life. That last applies to both genders. After an entertaining clash in court and the judge's (Clark) chambers, dessert consists of a conclusion so sentimental that any viewer thereof whose lifeblood isn't pure syrup may from their horripilation suffer a dermic malady. Essential viewing only for fans of Mastrantonio and especially Hackman, it's not without some great moments...and at least as many schmaltzy enough to discountenance anyone who watches in good society.
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Verdict.

A Dangerous Woman (1993)
Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal
Written by Mary McGarry Morris, Naomi Foner
Produced by Patricia Whitcher, Naomi Foner, Kathleen Kennedy
Starring Debra Winger, Gabriel Byrne, Barbara Hershey, David Strathairn, Chloe Webb, John Terry, Viveka Davis, Richard Riehle, Myles Sheridan, Laurie Metcalf, Jan Hooks
Even when it descends into maudlin melodrama, its gifted players and Gyllenhaal's proficient (if pedestrian) direction buoy this seamy drama of manslaughter in a small Californian town, produced and adapted by his wife with a similarly uninspired competence from Morris's novel. Winger believably creates by vociferation and gestural subtleties the ipsism of an intrusive, ingenuous simpleton, whose turbulent relationships with friends (Webb, Davis), a disreputable co-worker (Strathairn), her lonely aunt (Hershey) and a drunken, drifting carpenter (Byrne) in her employ confound and agitate her delicate, often uncomprehending psyche with tragic results. Many of the commonplace contretemps enacted are self-consciously stagy for Morris's hackneyed dialogue, but in sequent sanguinary and sexual extremes, Gyllenhaal presses his performers to plausible potency, proving that they deserve a better story. Despite an intolerably twee score composed by Carter Burwell (when he was penning his best music for the Coens), there's plenty to enjoy here, such as Robert Elswit's warmly balanced photography, and a plenitude of familiar character actors; among others, Paul Dooley and Jan Hooks respectively peddle Tupperware and cosmetics. From and for Winger, this is to be expected: a premium performance of a modest role, trapped in a middling picture.

Dead of Winter (1987)
Directed by Marc Shmuger, John Bloomgarden, Arthur Penn
Written by Anthony Gilbert, Marc Shmuger, Mark Malone
Produced by John Bloomgarden, Marc Shmuger, Michael MacDonald
Starring Mary Steenburgen, Jan Rubes, Roddy McDowall, William Russ, Mark Malone, Ken Pogue, Wayne Robson
Shmuger's and Malone's admittedly clever reworking of My Name is Julia Ross was sufficiently dissimilar to Joseph H. Lewis's mediocre noir melodrama and the novel from which it was adapted (Gilbert's The Woman in Red) for them to circumvent both copyrights and any associative legal action, but the goofy, glossy result is only technically superior to its source. Later a failed executive of Universal Pictures and Luc Besson's tiresome EuropaCorp, Shmuger was reportedly unprepared for his first week's directorial difficulties, and hired Penn to helm this picture while his co-producer Bloomgarden did so intervallically. Nina Foch's working girl lured though an employment office by a mother and her twisted son to their seaside estate, where's she's confined and publicly paraded as his missing wife, is recharacterized as an unemployed actress (Steenburgen) hired at a casting call by the vivacious valet (McDowall) of a crippled psychiatrist (Rubes) to perform a screen test at the shrink's mansion during a snowstorm in upstate New York on behalf of a Canadian filmmaker who's allegedly lost to squabbles his leading lady, to whom she's identical. It's certainly nice to behold: Jan Weincke's sharp, brilliant photography is commendable for its distinct yet balanced contrast, exhibiting Bill Brodie's splendid production design and sets appointed by Mark S. Freeborn and Paul Harding that emphasize the luxuriance of the wealthy mythomaniac's manse and cozy modesty of Steenburgen's apartment. Especially in dramatic worm's-eye and lingering still shots, Penn's usual craftsmanship is executed as adroitly as ever, and snappily cut by Rick Shaine. However, this particular journeyman's inclination to grant his casts carte blanche has always determined the varied quality of his best (Bonnie and Clyde, Night Moves, The Missouri Breaks) and worst (Alice's Restaurant, Penn & Teller Get Killed) movies. Perennial ham Rubes looks and sounds like elderly Werner Herzog channeling one of Adam Sandler's zanier characters; he hasn't a line too brief or gesture too small to overplay. Once infallible even whenever over the top (see The Legend of Hell House), McDowall's instincts were diminished either by years of roles in B-features or Rubes' influence, for he seems to be vying with the elder Czech for the blue ribbon with laughably mincing mannerisms. Steenburgen tackles three parts with gusto, but falters in two when attempting to maintain tonal accordance with Rubes. Consequently, the third act descends into a silliness that should've been suspense. For all this tale's riveting twists, its production's polish and a couple of appellative winks to Julia Ross, it's largely ruined by Rubes' gaping japery, and his co-stars' attempts to meet it.

Knowing (2009)
Directed by Alex Proyas
Written by Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Alex Proyas, Steve Tisch, Ryne Douglas Pearson, David J. Bloomfield, Topher Dow, Norman Golightly, Stephen Jones, Aaron Kaplan, Sean Perrone
Starring Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Nadia Townsend, Lara Robinson, D.G. Maloney
It's an ingenious germ worthy of Bradbury, Ellison or Eco: an apparent numerical cryptogram inscribed by a troubled schoolgirl in 1959 is stowed with her classmates' conventionally juvenile images of a projected future in their school's time capsule; disinterred a half-century later, it's discovered to chronologically foretoken dates, death tolls and coordinates of numerous consequential catastrophes that occurred during its fifty years underground, as well as three imminent. Alas, in the pudgy paws of Proyas, this overscripted, overscored, overproduced eschatological thriller degenerates into bathetic banality when a widowed astrophysicist (Cage) tenured at MIT happens upon and interprets the portentous string after his bratty son (Canterbury) receives its leaf upon exhumation. What might've been a fun race to deter disasters presaged instead wallows in familial distress and sappy hysterics, bedizened with flagrantly fake CG in a picture focused on characters who've neither sufficient amenity nor insight to warrant such an overpersonalized story. Whether he's underplaying monotonously or hamming his passions with that goofy voice, Cage is unfit as ever a dramatic lead; everyone else -- including underfed Byrne -- is credible yet unable to indue to their stock personae any especial interest. Some clever prefigurements, presagements and misdirections can't salvage considerable potential trifled on tragedy depressing beyond engagement and mythic hokum in a story too trite to affect.

License to Drive (1988)
Directed by Greg Beeman
Written by Neil Tolkin
Produced by John Davis, Andrew Licht, Jeffrey A. Mueller, Mack Bing
Starring Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Michael Manasseri, Carol Kane, Richard Masur, Heather Graham, Nina Siemaszko, James Avery
Frolic and amatory ambitions of a gawky, gawking, suburban schlub (Haim) hinge on acquisition of but two desiderata:

  1. His grandfather's mammoth, pickily preserved 1972 Cadillac, which he can't borrow until he procures:
  2. His driver's license

After passing his road test and dumbly flunking his computerized driving exam, he annexes the Brobdingnagian boat anyway to romance his lovely, lively objet du désir (Graham), and patronize a bouncy drive-in restaurant with his buddies, an unflappable dynamo (Feldman) and a nerdy amateur photographer (Manasseri). Household idiocy, teenage inexperience and goofy fortuities occasion an utterly uninsurable night of disorder and destruction for which the hapless highschooler's entirely liable. As often on wheels as not, this second of the Coreys' vehicles is probably their best, risibly scripted by Tolkin and careening by coordinator Joe Dunne's surplus of sensational stunts at breathless celerity, from an opening that sends up the first sequel of A Nightmare on Elm Street to an amusingly ruinous conclusion. Their co-stars optimize as entertainingly as the blow-dried, daffy dyad, especially cuddly Masur and edacious, enceinte Kane, who satisfy their fans' expectations as Haim's parents. Only our era of fun produced performers as likably ludicrous as Haim and Feldman, or such unabashedly silly, thrilling comedies of a species that's now all but extinct. Watch and enjoy without impedimentary sense.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Sex and the Single Girl, American Graffiti, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Adventures in Babysitting or Tommy Boy.

Strange Voices (1987)
Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
Written by Roberta Dacks, Nancy Geller, Donna Powers, Wayne Powers
Produced by Nancy Geller, Linda Otto, Joan Barnett, Alan Landsburg, Howard Lipstone, Nancy McKeon, Greg H. Sims
Starring Nancy McKeon, Valerie Harper, Stephen Macht, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Millie Perkins, Robert Krantz, Robin Morse, Jack Blessing, Marta Kristen, Heidi Schooler, Molly McClure, Gerald Hiken, Fay Hauser, Gary Bisig, Micah Grant
Her ebullitions erupt in recurrence to strain familial and social ties when thought broadcasting and amplified, illusory voices derange an undergraduate of architecture (McKeon), whose parents (Harper, Macht), sister (Fisher) and boyfriend (Krantz) are helpless to succor her in schizophrenic throes. Riding popularly a year later on the coattails of Promise, this slightly stale, sober, televised drama satisfactorily portrays schizoid behavioral symptoms, their interpersonal, psychological and financial tolls, inadequacies of available medications, the failures of psychiatric institutions to address the disorder, and the prevalence of destitution and suicide in Kennedy's and Reagan's era of deinstitutionalization. Seidelman's passionate cast hit their marks capably; at her fame's zenith, McKeon exhaustively registers the frustration of every helpless patient who's vacillated between racking madness and medicated stupefaction in poorly staffed boarding houses. Neither the best nor worst of so many topically correspondent productions, it's nonetheless informative, and indispensable for McKeon's fans.

Unspeakable Acts (1990)
Directed by Linda Otto
Written by Jan Hollingsworth, Alan Landsburg, Hesper Anderson, Joanna Strauss
Produced by Joan Barnett, Don Goldman, Alan Landsburg, Howard Lipstone, Linda Otto
Starring Jill Clayburgh, Brad Davis, Sam Behrens, Gary Frank, James Handy, Mark Harelik, Season Hubley, Terence Knox, Valerie Landsburg, Maureen Mueller, Bebe Neuwirth, Jeff Seymour, Gregory Sierra, David Wilson, Laura Owens, Bess Meyer, Paul Eiding, Jenny Gago, Guy Stockwell, Byrne Piven, Maria Cavaiani, Ashleigh Sterling, Miko Hughes, Kristal Bivona, Joseph Mazzello, Alan Sader, Mark Joy, Rick Warner, Jane Gabbert

Recommended for a double feature paired with .

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Ghastly

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (2015)
Written and directed by Eva Husson
Produced by Laurent Baudens, Didar Domehri, Gaël Nouaille
Starring Marilyn Lima, Lorenzo Lefèbvre, Daisy Broom, Finnegan Oldfield, Fred Hotier, Raphaël Porcheron, Manuel Husson
Two strains of cinematic hack can be severalized by gender among the superabundance of derivative dullards who've succeeded the last great French cineastes in the wake of their attrition to reduce Francophonic cinema to a trendy, tacky, Americanized, globalist cesspit: effete epigones who strive and fail to mimic the likes of Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol and especially Pialat, and thick women arrogating the tone or style (without the substance) of Agnes Varda or Catherine Breillat. That latter camp produces idiots like Husson, who in turn produces idiocies such as her debut feature, which drearily depicts vapid, vacuous teens who bond at private, prurient parties over drugs, dull sex and duller music, until their local physicians sweep up after their venereal indulgences by treating them for incident outbreaks of syphilis, gonorrhea and at least one unbidden pregnancy, as though the repercussions of such debaucheries are purely corporal. Husson struggles to generate, or at least evoke a zeitgeist with adolescent pretensions embodied in postures and vocalized via clunky, narrational metaphors, but only ultimately betrays her own naiveté. If her young players are as jejune as her story, they can't be blamed for roles that are almost interchangeably alike, only varying in how they miffingly mope. Besides, the most attractive among them (Lima, Lefèbvre) are annoyingly so, while the ugliest (Broom, Oldfield, Hotier) are visual indignities whether in conversation or coitus. It's as responsible as a narcoleptic babysitter, aphrodisiacal as colonoscopic footage and personally profound as an episode of a reality show, but its parenthetic subtitle is accurate: this Modern Love Story radiates its directress's limitless love for herself.

Charlotte for Ever (1986)
Directed and written by Serge Gainsbourg
Produced by Claudie Ossard, Jean-Claude Fleury, Charlotte Fraisse
Starring Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Roland Bertin, Roland Dubillard, Anne Le Guernec, Sabeline Campo
That late phase of his life and career when Gainsbourg intimated incestuous relations with his adolescent daughter for publicity and profit climaxed with his hokey ode to hebephilia, persisted with a salaciously sloppy smooch when Charlotte won a César Award for her lead performance in An Impudent Girl, then finally fizzled for the failure of this preposterously plotless, mawkish, kinky little drama, notable chiefly for its scant score and cockamamie comedy, mayhap half of which is deliberate. Succeeding his wife's fiery demise in an automotive accident (from which he escaped with a supposedly scorched, gloved right hand), an alcoholic screenwriter (Gainsbourg) years past his prime mourns her by moping around his home, composing bad poetry, pitching lewdly unsalable scripts to his producer (Dubillard), comforting a heartbroken friend (Bertin), flirting with his sullen, sylphlike scion (Gainsbourg) and her equally beddable, if brainless friend (Campo), and boffing a butterfaced student (Le Guernec) under his tutelage. All else is implied. His admittedly striking composition can't be faulted for all the truly unique inanities that Gainsbourg realizes therein: Charlotte whips wet, unshampooed hair to and fro while wiggling her rump; father and daughter reenact their respective wife's and mother's fictional death with slot cars; hungover Serge fingers his throat for genuine emesis; as Charlotte attacks Le Guernec in a jaundiced wax, her dad tears himself away from his toilet (and a close-up of his erratic urinary stream) to manhandle the ugly, shapely strumpet, then dance with his little girl. They recite and vogue rather than act, for who needs characters when they already are? As sulking Charlotte gazes dazed in what appears a harrowed hebetude punctuated by periodic outbursts, stuporous yet spastic Serge emotes weirdly, rotating his twisting, flicking paws, quoting classic literature in monologies, and muttering ham-handed exposition because he can't or won't exert allusion in a non-lyrical context: "I'll steal something from classics like Benjamin Constant. Herman won't notice. Poor idiot! He's an ignoramus." Most of this transpires as one might imagine those weekends or summers when the divorced pop star enjoyed custody. Just as aforementioned Lemon Incest is derived from the principal theme of Chopin's third étude in E major, the tune of this picture's eponymous theme song is cribbed from Khachaturian's Andantino; in both, Charlotte's breathily inept vocals remind all listeners that she's as much her mother's daughter as an inarguable beneficiary of daddy's nepotism. Naturally, Gainsbourg's music is excellent, but meager in repetition of only a few tracks. Leave it to Serge to err in a manner contrary to everyone else! Despite its absurdity, this most decadent chanteur's laughable lust letter is truly singular, and entertaining for its perverted peculiarities.

Dead Awake (2016)
Directed by Phillip Guzman
Written by Jeffrey Reddick
Produced by Phillip Guzman, Philip Marlatt, Galen Walker, Kurt Wehner, James LaMarr, Derek Lee Nixon, A.J. Gutierrez, Jeffrey Reddick, LeeLee Wellberg
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Jesse Bradford, Jesse Borrego, Lori Petty, Brea Grant, James Eckhouse, Mona Lee Fultz, A.J. Gutierrez, Natalie Jones, Billy Blair
It's as apt as inevitable a subject to be exploited for the conception of a horror flick, but sleep paralysis isn't ever in reality so soporiferous as this flat pap concerning a social worker (Donahue) who investigates the inexplicable death of her identical twin (Donahue) with her sibling's boyfriend (Bradford) and an invariably incapable somnologist (Borrego) who's colligated historical, apocryphal and personal evidence of a dread beldame (Jones) who strangles her somnially immobilized victims. Actualized by Guzman's perfunctorily practiced direction, Reddick's story typically, torpidly totters from one prosaic, progressively preposterous scene to the next, each replete with a tranche of spoken and conceptual clichés. Securely typecast Donahue prettily navigates her leaden, often footling dialogue with facility as spare as her figure to surpass most of her co-stars. Borrego and Blair seem to vie for the goofier performance, and Bradford's greasily bewildering crinal extensions and beard impart to him a semblance of Colin Farrell cosplaying as Dick Masterson, dubbed by A.J. Bowen at his most nebbish. Much of Dominique Martinez's photography is weirdly desaturated when that banal blue filter isn't applied, and both modes are as ugly as Donahue's god-awful wardrobe. Presumably intended for audiences possessing an infinitesimal threshold for horror who enjoyed Reddick's Final Destination, it's not likely to unsettle any save the smallest children and animals. Howbeit, this picture may be someday pressed as the nonmedical, hypnagogic remedy that finally cured insomnia.
Instead, watch A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Girls' Night Out (2017)
Directed by Philippe Gagnon
Written by Lisa Steele
Produced by Ian Whitehead, Kaleigh Kavanagh, Jean Bureau
Starring Mackenzie Mauzy, Kelly Kruger, Jacob Blair, Katherine Barrell, Hannah Emily Anderson, Cody Ray Thompson, Tristan D. Lalla

"Women complain about sex more often than men. Their gripes fall into two major categories: (1) Not enough, (2) Too much."

--Ann Landers

Muted, the first twenty minutes of this crime drama excreted from the bowels of Lifetime could easily be mistaken for a carousal of alcoholic hookers; in actuality, it's a bibulous bachelorette party thrown by her whilom sorority's sisters (Kruger, Barrell, Anderson) for a copywriter (Mauzy) in a hotel room, limousine and strip club. Her loony ex-boyfriend (Blair) meanwhile abducts to torture her fiancee (Thompson), then threatens the wassailing quartet of ditzy careerists with blackmail by footage of their licentious collegiate indiscretions, coercing their fulfillment of several dicey, disgusting, destructive, absurdly agonizing and abashing tasks. None of these ladies are for their sleaze and self-righteous egoism significantly more sympathetic than their antagonist, now unhinged by a criminal trial in which he was acquitted years before that devastated his budding sporting career. Whoever can overlook this flick's trashily garish photography (of an oversaturated sort common to televised fare or ugly features lensed by the likes of Ben Seresin), downright distasteful characters whose noisome personalities were defined by their inane collegial culture, and a few yawning plot holes may also be sufficiently suasible or dupable to believe that a rape can be inflicted by a man upon his doxy of over a year while both are drunk. Its cockamamie contrivances are sporadically fun, but this pernicious, preposterous propaganda is plainly aimed to inspire in stupidly susceptible young women the inkling that sex in any conceivable circumstance may be assault, and victimhood's a mere question of post-coital dissatisfaction. Trash of this fashion would be decried detestable in a normal society; in those where mendacious accusations of rape are spotlit monthly by corrupt news media outlets until they're debunked, it's all the more repugnant for its mundanity.

Lift Me Up (2015)
Directed by Mark Cartier
Written by Franco Zavala, Aviv Rubinstien, Mark Cartier
Produced by Mark Cartier, Jonny Jay, Lisha Yakub, Jacob Patrick, Franco Zavala, Mike Montgomery, Lars Anderson
Starring Todd Cahoon, Sarah Frangenberg, Shane Harper, Maureen McCormick, Jonny Jay, Chris Browning, Kathryn McCormick, Gene Gabriel, Jacob Patrick, Madison Hargrove, Mallory Hargrove, Lexi DiStefano, Rafael de la Fuente, Antonio D. Charity, Gary Hargrove
Frangenberg isn't a pinch as pretty, pleasing, plausible or lightsome as anyone who might clothe with appeal her role of a tetchy teen whose dolor for her late mother is expressed in flailing dance and shared by the stepfather (Cahoon) who she loudly and routinely vituperates, a fit yet estrogenically hypersensitive gunnery sergeant who attends a support group with other proto-menopausal widowers to vent his grief and craft pottery. Nearly everyone in this tame yet overheated drama is wooden, strepitently hammy or interchanging between either unwatchable extreme, obliged by dialogue as stiff and screamingly unfunny, from the mouths of characters defined either by insipidity or quirks as cutesy as Michael Matta's mincing music. Zavala's conflict is sloppily fabricated with unexplained absurdities: Cahoon's obdurately obtuse Marine -- who nearly deserves the bitchy invective he sustains daily -- protests his stepdaughter's daily transport courtesy of her unmistakably innocuous, quasi-nerdy inamorato manqué (Harper) without his spoken permission, but when she's traumatized that he disposed of her mother's entire wardrobe and other possessions in a previous, purportedly purgative scene without consulting her in advance, can't fathom why he'd need hers (and nobody else cares); sororal twins (Hargroves) who've the demeanor of flamers coked to the gills and popularity warranting an entourage at our carping protagonist's high school invite her to a party with presumed intent to humiliate her, then lose their minds when she smooches a cute classmate (Fuente) on whom they'd both designs; a sojourn at the home of her negligent and inconsiderate father (Browning) impels the aspiring dancer to her inevitable reconciliation with his successor, but a minute of this deadbeat's sleazy presence raises the question of why she's at all eager to reside with him. Their script exposes Rubinstien's and Cartier's categorical inability to pen compelling drama or amusing comedy, but much of the latter's unintentionally manifest in Kathryn McCormick's choreography, whereby the lunky leading lady and her classmates fling themselves about goofily. Some of that terpsichorean welter is prefaced by a metaphorically convoluted dithyramb delivered by McCormick during her cameo, but it's never more hilarious than when Frangenberg pantomimes and thrashes wackily through a hokily interpretive routine onstage at a climactic competition. Would that this entire movie was as genuinely entertaining as its risibly tossing steppers, or that its hour of story wasn't padded with nearly another fifty minutes of filler.
Instead, watch Uncle Buck.

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Phoenix (1995)
Directed by Troy Cook
Written by Troy Cook, Jimmy Lifton
Produced by Dan Bates, Troy Cook, Jimmy Lifton, Morgan Salkind
Starring Stephen Nichols, Billy Drago, Denice Duff, Brad Dourif, Peter Murnik, William Sanderson, Robert Gossett, Betsy Soo, Jeremy Roberts, Leland Orser
Most of these rather languorous, fifth-rate fantasies that aired during afternoons of the nineties and early aughts on the Sci-Fi Channel (to the middling approval of children and teenagers) seem less produced than cobbled for prompt airplay. In this one, the bloody insurgence of military androids posted to a lunar mining colony provokes their manufacturer's oily CEO (Drago) to dispatch a strike force under the oversight of his testy lackey (Dourif) to neutralize the offending automatons and their undersized honcho (Sanderson). Treachery, corporate conspiracy, psychic side-effects of the mine's exclusively extracted element and a few instances of shocking ineptitude create complications substituted for any sort of plot. Nichols is blandly macho as the team's commander, lacking a dash of chemistry with his dubious love interest (Duff). His team's cadre are stock stereotypes: doomed black lieutenant (Gossett); tough hussy (Soo); brainish clown (Roberts). Usually a reliable character actor, Sanderson is here either deliberately stiff or merely sedated. Dourif's contrarily seething overperformance is amusing enough, as is a single sinister note played greasily by Drago. Expenses incurred by what passes for this flick's production design certainly couldn't exceed any budget in the low six figures; most of the costumes are inferior to middling togs of cosplay, and off-world mines, corporate complexes and hospitals of the future respectively resemble boiler rooms, warehouses and dentists' offices of the '90s sparsely adorned with neon lights. Congruous spacecraft consist of adorably toylike miniatures and graphics to rival those in cutscenes of coexistent shmups. Excepting a few unintentionally hilarious lines, most of Cook's and Lifton's dialogue is as shopworn as their story defined by derivation; even the malevolent corporation's eponym Rydell is suspiciously similar to Tyrell. This is recommended only for indiscriminate potheads and Dourif's fans, especially those who supported the twitchy thespian before Peter Jackson revived his career.
Instead, watch Scanners, Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell.

© 2019, 2020 Robert Buchanan

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