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 playwright (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 author'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 millennial 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 tacky decals, ill-conceived drapes of pea-green and brown paisley or stripes, 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 shattered the moment an actor utters either parlance scripted in poor imitation or a contemporary vernacular voiced via uptalk and other insufferable habitudes.

West and his crew clothed his slow, steady exploitation of the bygone satanic panic with a rare verisimility to polish one of a few American coruscations of their genre produced during the aughts. Its scenario would in lesser hands seem like hackery: yearning for privacy, repulsed by her slatternly roommate and desperate to secure her first month's rent for lodging at an inviting rental house, a cute collegian (Donahue) leaps at the opportunity to babysit for an elderly couple (Noonan, Woronov) with an avidity abated by their conditional oddities, but her dubiety and suppressed suspicions prepare her neither for their grisly intrigues nor her Luciferian fate, engrossed upon a lunar emersion following the night's total eclipse. Sagely refraining from complete pastiche, West instead incorporates techniques popularized in the '70s and early '80s into his vigorous idiom. Frames frozen during opening credits, lingering close-ups and zooms of varied velocities amplify tension, stress vehemence and arrest the eye. He's incapable of a poor shot -- whether still or creeping thwart and through hallways, enfilades and immaculately dressed rooms -- and maintains pace and consistency by cutting his faintly grainy, chromatically rich Super 16 footage with a punctilious art worthy of his script, complete for its shades of portent and playful, preordained protagonist's expatiating exploration of her employers' mansion to establish spatial and tonal parameters, and raise the eyebrows of those most wakeful in her audience. Notwithstanding a few anachronous elements (a payphone accepting quarters, car alarm and latter-day faucets), this picture's immersive for Jade Healy's transformative production design, Robin Fitzgerald's charming costumes, and meticulous art direction courtesy of Chris Trujillo, all complemented by Mike Armstrong's memorable opening tune and fantastic faux newscasts helmed by second unit director/sound designer Graham Reznick. Only a few lines delivered with present intonation remind one fleetingly of Donahue's contemporariness, and her achingly lovely, post-Celtic phenotype is as becoming of the era as her high-waisted bluejeans or knit scarf. She's all but perfect in the role of unwitting tour guide and victim, but still spicily upstaged in their every shared scene by indie darling Gerwig as her crude, cheeky, feathered best friend. Both are foils for Noonan and Woronov, veterans of creepy roles who expertly enact a gentility veiling subtly subjacent menace. Disregard naysayers who misrepresent West's cunningly cultivated suspense as longueur by omitting one of the best jump scares at which you'll ever flinch, and that his prolonged preludes lead to a strobing, severely stridulous and sanguineous climax. Both the gently foreboding, pianistic themes and quintet's strepent strings of Jeff Grace's score, as well as adjunct music and painstaking audio design by Reznick and foley artist Shaun Brennan, intensify without disrupting disquiet of many key scenes. Few of West's Anglophone coevals (Carruth, Mitchell, Cosmatos) evince an apprehension of their medium's dramatic, thematic and technical dynamics so penetrating as his; well aware that the devil's in the details, he, Reznick, et al. are just old enough to faithfully recall and evoke 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, Black Christmas or Beyond the Black Rainbow.


Exceptional

Destiny (1921)
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Produced by Erich Pommer
Starring Lil Dagover, Bernhard Goetzke, Walter Janssen, Eduard von Winterstein, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Paul Biensfeldt, Károly Huszár, Hans Sternberg, Karl Rückert, Erika Unruh
Upon his visitation in a pastoral town, stern, somber Death (Goetzke) pays handsomely to lease a parcel alongside a cemetery that's been designated for its graveyard's expansion, where he erects a sepulchral stronghold inaccessible to all save a doughty, doleful damsel (Dagover) whose young fiancé (Janssen) he's consigned to the hereafter, and for whose restoration she obtests. So moved is the Grim Reaper by her impassioned impetration that he challenges her for a chance at her wish: incarnated as treble doxies of as many men soon to meet their end, they may be reunited if she can rescue but one of them. In a Persian city of strident muadhdhins, whirling dervishes and veiled beauties, the sister (Dagover) of a cruel caliph (Winterstein) struggles to rescue her secret lover, a Frank (Janssen) pursued by authorities after daring to visit her in a mosque during Ramadan. Lusty, conspirative Venice is the backdrop of a tragedy whereby a corrupt councilman (Klein-Rogge) designs to dispatch during Carnival the sweetheart (Janssen) of a noblewoman (Dagover) to whom he's hatefully engaged. Finally, Dagover and Janssen are enamored assistants to a preeminent magus (Biensfeldt) who's commissioned to entertain China's tyrannical Emperor (Huszár) on the occasion of his birthday in exchange for his life; when the despot claims her and imprisons her man, she may need more than magic to save them both. For its innovatory set design, Orientalist and Italian charms, dated yet vivid special effects and Lang's captivating composition, his fatalist, fabular fantasy is nearly as impressive as it was a century ago. Moreover, its presentation of morbid theurgy is among the medium's first and best, serving to influence many posterior. Creating her woebegone, mettlesome maiden in broadly histrionical strokes, Dagover inhabits another of many sacrificial heroines prevailing in Weimar cinema, and Goetzke's implacably forbidding as a solemn foil to her often hysterical fervor. Exciting, funny, touching, poetic and rich with symbolic auspices, Lang's centennial classic evokes a bittersweet poignance reliant on the verity of its burden: ever salvational, love may endure a quietus that it can never defeat.
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Seventh Seal.

Evolution (2015)
Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Written by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alante Kavaite, Geoff Cox
Produced by Nicolas Villarejo Farkas, Ángeles Hernández, David Matamoros, Julien Naveau, Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon, Sebastián Álvarez, John Engel, Genevieve Lemal
Starring Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Marta Blanc, Mathieu Goldfeld, Nissim Renard
Distant from lush forests where the little ladies of Innocence were secluded, Hadzihalilovic's eerily, elegantly elliptic second feature probes the seaboard secrets of an austere, insular village. Similarly severe women domiciled there with young boys in their care feed a vermicious stew and administer an inky medicine to their charges, who are subjected to strange experiments in a dank, nearby hospital where they're eventually committed. One peculiarly inquisitive tad (Brebant) among them discovers another boy's corpse in the reef of his island's bight, then witnesses the surrogate mothers' bizarre, nightly, coastal congress, realizing too late the danger his keepers pose. For its economy, dialogue is essentially effective from the mouths of the directress's naturalistically convincing cast, and she wisely paces this quiet nightmare elicited from a juvenile trepidity with exquisite deliberation, introducing her setting's seascapes and landscapes in panoramas, then focusing on swimming and swaying benthos, tenebrious revelations and subtly suggestive gestures that communicate perhaps more than any conversation. As in her debut, water's here a literally and metaphorically transitional medium, almost so ubiquitous in the umbratile hospital where our protagonist is befriended by a sympathetic nurse (Duran) as on the strand where weltering breakers underscore with Jesús Díaz's and Zacarías M. de la Riva's perturbing, poignant music portent and peril. Hadzihalilovic's superbly stygian, spartan fantasy proposes a societal and interspecific parasitism, and that mercy may not be exclusive to humanity.

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

The Acid House (1998)
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Written by Irvine Welsh
Produced by David Muir, Alex Usborne, Carolynne Sinclair Kidd, Colin Pons
Starring Stephen McCole, Maurice Roëves, Alex Howden, Annie Louise Ross, Garry Sweeney, Jenny McCrindle, John Gardner, Stewart Preston, Simon Weir; Kevin McKidd, Michelle Gomez, Gary McCormack, Tam Dean Burn; Ewen Bremner, Arlene Cockburn, Martin Clunes, Jemma Redgrave
Perhaps because he scripted this raunchy, riotous, revolting adaptation of three among twenty-two stories from his eponymous anthology, it's likely the best picture based on Welsh's fiction. During his life's last, worst day, a footballing loser (McCole) is cut from his carousing league, by his deviant dad (Howden) dislodged, nubile girlfriend (McCrindle) jilted, manager (Preston) axed and a police sergeant (Gardner) brutalized, then confronted in a pub by cantankerous God (Roëves), who transmogrifies the swilling dud in disgust for his shortfall of ambition. Newly mutated, the bitter flop of The Granton Star Cause exacts petty vengeance with newfound stealth, but not with impunity. If he wasn't such A Soft Touch, a gutless, married father (McKidd) wouldn't suffer repeated humiliations by his slatternly wife (Gomez), or the loutish, lascivious lunatic (McCormack) with whom she's clamantly cuckolding him, whose varied, parasitic impingements aren't possible without a perfect poltroon. A tab of potent LSD and bolts of lightning swap the minds of a doltish football hooligan (Bremner) and a hideous, vinyl neonate at the moment of exchange born to an insufferable, upscale married couple (Clunes, Redgrave). Reveling in this supernatural infantilization, his devoted girlfriend (Cockburn) designs to remold him into a better person, but a casual encounter between the commuted clods intervenes in The Acid House. Consistently comical and leavened with psychedelic fantasy, this felicifically foul time capsule from Scotland's late '90s dramatizes Welsh's navel-gazing prime with fine, funny, filthy performances against squalid locations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and good musical selections by The Pastels, Glen Campbell, The Chemical Brothers, Nick Cave, The Verve, etc. Viewers unaccustomed to nearly unintelligible Glaswegian accents will need subtitles.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Trainspotting.

Batman: The Movie (1966)
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Produced by William Dozier, Charles B. Fitzsimons
Starring Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp, Reginald Denny
Holy collusion! When the Penguin (Meredith), Joker (Romero), Catwoman (Meriwether) and Riddler (Gorshin) assay to abduct nine delegates of an international security council and eliminate Batman (West) and Robin (Ward) with a weaponized dehydrator that reduces its targets to colored dust, the dynamic duo investigate and confront those four flamboyantly fiendish felons with their arsenal of chiropterously-themed weapons, vehicles, gizmos and solutions for every eventuality! Effectively an extended, widescreen episode of the gaudily deadpan, televised farce, this theatrical feature's dotted by Semple with an argosy of his eccentricities: sight gags, cockamamie contraptions and punch lines integral to its plot; amusingly aimless extravagances; historical and literary references; fulsome fracases; abundant adnomination. Halting West and squawking Meredith are parceled and optimize his funniest dialogue, but all of these wry heroes and manic rogues make every minute hilarious. In routine conformity to the series' style, Martinson frames the scoundrels exclusively in Dutch angles at their hideout, but reserves those exclamatorily onomatopoeic captions for a climactic melee upon a spheniscine submarine. Fans of the series have naturally seen this; anyone else partial to high camp is sure to adore it.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Superman III or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

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 were surely as perilously imprudent as they're 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.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (A.K.A. Every Man for Himself and God Against All) (1974)
Directed by Werner Herzog
Written by Werner Herzog, Jakob Wassermann
Produced by Werner Herzog
Starring Bruno Schleinstein, Walter Ladengast, Michael Kroecher, Brigitte Mira, Enno Patalas, Hans Musäus, Gloria Doer, Volker Prechtel, Volker Elis Pilgrim, Clemens Scheitz, Henry van Lyck, Willy Semmelrogge

"[W]e shall never succeed entirely in extirpating from the heart of man this original credulity which is a principle of his nature, a radical condition of his existence, so much so that we could consider it a characteristic of the human species, and say: credulity is one of the attributes that distinguishes Man from the animals."

--Dr. Benjamin Verdo, Charlatanry and Charlatans in Medicine: A Psychological Study, 1867

Whoever would now imagine him the princely foundling, victimized naif, tortured wunderkind against crushing odds would've surely been as gulled by the mysterious teenager as so many in Nuremberg were for five years in the early 19th century, after he arrived suddenly to fascinate its locals, then deplete the charity of his several benefactors. Picayune, pretentiously paranoid persona, schizoid scammer, querulent, mythomaniac, pampered brat all probably described him accurately, yet this assessment is tangential to his characterization in the dreamily, alternately soothingly and shakingly speculative fairy tale that Herzog educed from the storied oddball's pseudobiographic lies. Here, Hauser's lifelong confinement in a cellar is concluded when a gruff stranger (Musäus) frees him, teaches him how to walk, leads him to Nuremberg, and abandons him. The inelegant innocent is housed first by one of his jailers (Prechtel), then by a kindly schoolmaster and philosopher (Ladengast) after a stint in an exploitative circus's sideshow. Thenceforth he strives to read, write, play music and comprehend the worlds within and beyond him, succored by his caretaker, local clergy (Patalas, Pilgrim), and a milord (Kroecher) whose custody of him is prompted by the intrigue that his charge inspires among townsfolk and high society alike, and which ends when his inscrutably bizarre behavior and provocatively peculiar perspectives embarrass his patron. As genteel characters, the entire supporting cast are fine foils for goggling Schleinstein, whose droll, piteous, exceptional creation of the frustrated aberrant conveys arduous articulation by his haltingly intense delivery. His age was well over twice Hauser's, but the autodidactic musician and painter proved a strikingly suitable lead, perhaps because the many ordeals that he suffered in his much longer life so often paralleled those that Hauser likely fabricated, fictionalized by Herzog in his discerningly, interchangeably intimate and observational style. Beautifully crafted and replete with allusions and auguries, never does this fiction moot nearly everyone's first, forever unanswered question: who was he?
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Marquise of O.

Faults (2014)
Directed and written by Riley Stearns
Produced by Keith Calder, Jessica Calder, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Roxanne Benjamin, Chris Harding, Brian Joe
Starring Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Ellis, Beth Grant, Jon Gries, Lance Reddick
Few are so vulnerable or amenable than during a forlorn nadir, as that suffered by a disgraced expert (Orser) of cultic phenomena posterior to his career's collapse: divorced, indebted, indigent, homeless and sleeping as often as not in his godforsaken AMC Pacer, the whilom celebrity hawks a piffling hardback feebly redolent of his prior bestseller when hosting lectures of waning attendance worsened by his peckishly petty personality. After one such seminar, an aging suburban couple (Ellis, Grant) approach him to abduct, sequestrate and deprogram their daughter, an ardent cultist (Winstead). What first seems an opportunity to reverse his fortunes by settling a debt to his brutish, onetime manager (Gries) spirals suddenly into an uncontrollable nightmare: the infamous doctor's quietly beguiled as much by the resolve and allure of his kidnapped patient as her faith's intrigue, while her father's aggression intimates a paternal impropriety, destabilizing their apparent progress no less than a series of mystifying occurrences, all compounded by the pressuring presence of his creditor's dire, dapper deputy (Reddick), who duns the bedeviled psychotherapist with veiled threats. Optimally static shots and slow zooms constitute most of Stearns' first feature, which prepossesses at a leisurely pace wherein scarcely a penetrating, amusing or disconcerting moment's wasted. Orser's a seasoned character actor who deserves a lead now and again, and creates his shrewd, shallow, ruined pop psychologist at the brink of caricature, but pulls back for glimpses of insight and affirmations of his frailties and humanity. His exchanges with Winstead are as perfectly played as sharply scripted; clinician and subject gradually interchange, she leading by expounding her metaphysical convictions and aspirations, and emitting a sex appeal nearly imperceptible for its nicety. Most of the supporting players are as colorfully outstanding as costumes, sets and cars selected to lend this microproduction a fashion evocative of the early '80s. Gries is especially memorable as the creepily effeminate professional photographer of domestic portraits, whose squeaky-clean idiolect, replete with minced oaths, contrasts with his violent temperament. A cameo whereby A.J. Bowen uncharacteristically overplays an aggrieved relative who confronts Orser's fallen specialist at one of his pissant events should've been reshot entirely, and some humor during the picture's first fifteen minutes falls flat. Otherwise, the Texan photographer turned filmmaker adroitly juggles comedy and drama with dashes of arcana all scrupulously shot, and tautly cut by one Sarah Beth Shapiro. Ironically, Stearns lost his leading ladylove to the Anglosphere's greatest cult after Winstead divorced him in starkly hypergamous favor of a dimwitted, Scottish leading man, with whom she stridently signals her virtue to promote horrendous independent and studio productions to which she's now committed. That's a subject for another review or twelve; this penultimate picture in which her histrionic potential was tapped after transitioning to serious roles suggests what might've been, and potently portrays how privation of wealth, society and self-respect lays the mind supine to suggestion.

The Founder (2017)
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Written by Robert Siegel
Produced by Jeremy Renner, Don Handfield, Aaron Ryder, Michael Sledd, Parry Creedon, Glen Basner, Holly Brown, Alison Cohen, David Glasser, David S. Greathouse, William D. Johnson, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Karen Lunder, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Kate Kneeland, Patrick Wilson, Justin Randell Brooke, Griff Furst, Wilbur Fitzgerald, David de Vries, Andrew Benator, Cara Mantella

"The definition of salesmanship is the gentle art of letting the customer have it your way."

--Ray Kroc

In his own words: "I was 52 years old. I had diabetes and incipient arthritis. I had lost my gall bladder and most of my thyroid gland in earlier campaigns, but I was convinced the best was ahead of me." In the mid-'50s, aging salesman Ray Kroc (Keaton) itinerated interstate, struggling with sporadic success to peddle Prince Castle's deluxe milkshake mixers to proprietors of drive-ins, whose sloppy refections and shoddy service courtesy of pretty, rollerskating carhops were insults added to every unsold injury. To satisfy a seemingly impossible order for eight such units in San Bernardino, he happened upon a modern miracle of a little eatery that prepared for lengthy queues cheap, savory, instantaneously prepared burgers, French fries and milkshakes by skilled, sanguine, sanitary staff indoors. A tour of this facility by its owners, designers and managers, Richard (Offerman) and Maurice (Lynch) McDonald, fascinates Kroc, as does their alacritous account over dinner of their career in the food service industry: thirty years of presentational and logistical trial and error developed with Mac's procedural and mechanical inventions, Dick's showmanship and their shared, reductive intent to eliminate troublesome conventions that resulted in a sedulously subtilized system that optimized both quality of service and product, and a quantity sufficient to satisfy every customer. The loquacious pitchman's consequently obsessed with a vision to franchise this local invention of fast food; after selling himself and their own business recontextualized as a boldly branded national chain to the circumspect siblings, he contracts with them as a franchiser to succeed where they failed to maintain the cibarious homogeneity and competence of extraneous outlets. Forays into new markets prove remunerative, but frustrating for that recurrent qualitative slide and their menus' regional drift, so the energetic Kroc replaces their managers with hungry, capable employees with whom he identifies, such as a hawker of Bibles (Benator) and a veteran of the Korean War (Franco Castan) who sells vacuum cleaners door to door. Despite his booming eastward growth, burgeoning eminence and obligation of his mortgaged house for capital, Kroc finds himself at a midwestern impasse and knee-deep in arrears for a deficit of revenue imputable to the restrictions of his contract, but a fortuitous encounter with financier Harry J. Sonneborn (Novak) introduces him to his shrewdest business partner, who convinces him to preveniently purchase prospective plots of his outlets and lease them to his franchisees via a corporation, to which he's eventually appointed by Kroc as its first president and CEO. By virtue of this M.O., the franchise's profits and expansion magnified twentyfold, but Kroc's failing marriage to his neglected wife (Dern), invited designs on the spouse (Cardellini) of a successful restaurateur and multiple franchisee (Wilson) and loggerheads with the brothers McDonald reveal the chatty oligopolist's amoral avaritia for limitless commerce.
Its intricate period detail and perfectly picked players sell Hancock's congenially conventional biopic, which is faithful enough to substantially portray a personage who's as much its antagonist as protagonist. Ever-squirrely Keaton mimics with slight amplification Kroc's accent and mannerisms, enacting the roguish devil with fidelity to his characteristic brio and glimpses of his elusive sensitivity. Everyone else serves as his foil with buttoned-down bearings true to this staid era. Warhorses of many quirkily mundane roles, Offerman and Lynch look and feel genuine as the ingenuously principled craftsmen who pioneered the revolutionary model arrogated by their franchiser, and Novak's icily mesmerizing as Sonneborn. Most fictive and biographic features are muddled by exposition and cutbacks, but thanks to Siegel's accessible dialogue, Hancock's demonstrative composition and Robert Frazen's measured editing, these are the picture's highlights: at a tennis court, Dick and Mac train their staff and gradually devise an ideal layout for their restaurant's production line with chalked, commensurate diagrams; Sonneborn enkindles in the audience a glimmer of the same excitement and relief that Kroc must've felt when elaborating on the potential of the chain's most significant single strategy; Kroc petitions synagogues, Shriners' Halls and Masonic Lodges for investment with an exhaustively rehearsed sales talk eulogizing familial values. Siegel's script often deviates from accuracy for dramatic purposes: neither was Kroc's divorce from his first wife so suddenly announced, nor his feuds with the McDonalds quite so wroth, and Cardellini seems sexier behind a piano than an organ when she first entrances her future husband. Ultimately, both Kroc and the McDonalds personify phases of postwar prosperity -- the former is an avatar of the tenacity and ambition that advanced the United States' extraordinary industries in the twentieth century, and the latter typical of so many innovators whose creations facilitated it. Bombs are still as American as apple pie.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Sometimes a Great Notion.

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.

Escorts (A.K.A. High Class Call Girls)
Directed by Dan Reed
Produced by Dan Reed, Tom Costello
Starring Emily Banfield, Cookie Jane
No realm of commerce has been unaffected by online interaction; for the obsolescence of pimps and madams, and its suppled transactional dynamics, prostitution is no exception. Two tart trulls (Banfield, Jane) residing together with their cute dogs in one of London's richest districts command considerable compensation from a carefully selected clientele as fond of their personable ribaldry as their artificially augmented anatomy and lineaments. Obnoxiously likable and oversexed, they could be easily misappraised as mere dingbats, but their entrepreneurial acumen and ambitions would belie such a facile estimation. These cocottes receive trustworthy tricks, only accept cash, and leave very little to chance. Banfield narrates a crucial, collapsed relationship and addiction to cocaine spanning from her late teens through her mid-twenties, whence she rebounded into the relative comfort and security of pornographic and meretricious careers, while Jane's metier apparently attends her insatiable libido and aversion to conventionally respectable labor. Interviews with the latter bawd's parents disbosom their discomfort with their daughter's chosen profession, as well as a contrast between that quiet desperation of Albion's past and graying generations, and the histrionic, often hysterical effusions that have come to typify the urban British ethos over the past forty years. Some scenes are instructive for the uninitiated, depicting online discourse between the trollops and their potential and frequent customers, or a house call when they're administered injections of Botox. As Jane launches her own online agency whereby her circle of escorts can negotiate libidinous encounters, Banfield saves and seeks a permanent partner as her career winds down. Despite Chad Hobson's largely direful music, Reed's strictly observational portrait of these cyprians is usually as amusing as its subjects. It also instantiates how molls and johns alike are mutually exploited in their engagements, and explodes the delusion advanced by some feminists that empowerment neutralizes exploitation; here, technology manifestly conduces a harlot's market of which exploitation's immanent.

In Like Flint (1967)
Directed by Gordon Douglas, Robert 'Buzz' Henry, James Coburn
Written by Hal Fimberg
Produced by Saul David, Martin Fink
Starring James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Jean Hale, Andrew Duggan, Steve Ihnat, Anna Lee, Hanna Landy, Totty Ames, Thomas Hasson, Yvonne Craig, Mary Michael, Diane Bond, Jacqueline Ray, Herb Edelman, Robert 'Buzz' Henry, Henry Wills, Mary Meade
Never one to squander singular success, David sped this sequel to Our Man Flint into production to extend his property's lucre a year later, penned again by Fimberg with the same gratifying balance of action and comedy. Ruggedly rangy Coburn returns as enlightened, polymathic, coolly charismatic superspy Derek Flint, who braves federal soldiers, KGB agents, hostile environments and gorgeous ladies at a security complex of intelligence agency ZOWIE, on rooftops in Moscow, amid the rampant forestry and cascades of the Virgin Islands, in a cryogenic chamber, and aboard a space capsule in sublunary orbit to oppose a nefarious general (Ihnat), his presidential impostor (Duggan) and a cabal of distaff industrialists (Hale, Lee, Landy, Ames) plotting an artistic agendum to effectuate global female supremacy. One-liners, sight gags and gadgetry galore make this spy spoof a pinch more risible than its predecessor, dryly played with prowess by a game cast, and especially toothily indefatigable Coburn and Cobb as ZOWIE's defamed, bumblingly lovable chief. Directorial journeyman Douglas helmed this affair with deft disinterest; consequentially, Coburn and co-star/second unit director/stunt arranger/stuntman 'Buzz' Henry directed and performed plenty of its most exciting shots. This movie fits the bill for purely amusing adventure, but sends up institutional rigidity, women's liberation and the Cold War with far more dash and wit than that observed in most cinematic satires. Third- and fourth-wave feminists are likely to loathe Flint and his second outing without grasping that Fimberg was poking fun at both sides in their endless war of the sexes.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Our Man Flint, Casino Royale or Batman: The Movie.

In the Name of My Daughter (2014)
Directed by André Téchiné
Written by Renée Le Roux, Jean-Charles Le Roux, André Téchiné, Cédric Anger
Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, Guillaume Canet, Christine De Jekel
Starring Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve, Adèle Haenel, Jean Corso, Judith Chemla, Mauro Conte, Pascal Mercier, Tamara De Leener, Jean-Marie Tiercelin, Laetitia Rosier, Ali Af Shari, Hubert Rollet, Jean Vincentelli, Jean-Paul Sourty, Grégoire Taulère, Tanya Lopert, Paul Mercier

"Certain loyalty comes only through dependency."

--Richard Nixon, Leaders

If an account of criminal and juridical history constitutes spoilers, so be it. In mid-'70s Nice, widowed gaming proprietress Renée Le Roux (Deneuve) sustained fraud and silent threats by Calabrian mafiosi backing her covetous competitor, Jean-Dominique Fratoni (Corso). After refusing to appoint her underhanded lawyer Maurice Agnelet (Canet) as her gambling den's manager, he conspired with her criminal rival to unseat her by seducing her grasping, gaumless daughter Agnès (Haenel) before manipulating her to vote against her mother's reappointment as the casino's president. During the gaming house's liquidation, Agnelet either iced the junior Le Roux or lured her to her assassination, then assumed the 3M francs of their joint accounts that Fratoni paid her for her filial recreance. Despite the absence of her corpse, Agnelet was eventually convicted of her murder after three trials nearly thirty years later.
Technical excellence, unsurprisingly superlative enactments and a virtuous restraint elevate Téchiné's dramatization of this shameful affair above most of its kind. Like his womanizing, sleazily smarmy subject, Canet isn't at all obvious in his interchange of allurement and quiet menace. Brainless, bitchy, bovine Haenel (French cinema's face of Americanized, fourth-wave feminism) is usually awful in lubricious roles, but apt for the acquisitive, confiding, lovelorn, ultimately unsympathetic victim opposite Deneuve, who once again meets expectations as Téchiné's (and everyone else's) favorite leading lady with a perfectly poised, then mournful personation of her maternal crusader. Téchiné's style is more commonly cinematic here than in his early work, in which his floating and sweeping pans, and occasional zooms would've been unimaginable; they're as slick as Hervé de Luze's painstaking editing, which is essential to no few of the director's conceits. Floral hues pop brilliantly against verdancy and richly textured wood and stone before Julien Hirsch's lenses, which capture both the rural beauty of numerous landscapes and Lucullan interior detail of casino and courthouse alike. As credible as the cast, Olivier Radot's production design reflects an intricate but sensibly limited attention to period detail, manifest best in Pascaline Chavanne's crack costumery. Only two errors mar this otherwise premium production. Most of Benjamin Biolay's charming score (especially its peppy, neoclassical main theme) couldn't be more tonally incongruous. Téchiné was wise only to portray the major events of this case that were publicly confirmed, but his ruth for the faithless, frivolous heiress is unjust. Most contemporary French aren't prepared to accept that some victims earn their fate.

The Manhattan Project (1986)
Directed by Marshall Brickman
Written by Marshall Brickman, Thomas Baum
Produced by Marshall Brickman, Jennifer Ogden, Bruce McNall, Roger Paradiso
Starring Christopher Collet, John Lithgow, Jill Eikenberry, Cynthia Nixon, John Mahoney, Abraham Unger, JD Cullum, Manny Jacobs, Charles Fields, Eric Hsiao, Robert Sean Leonard, David Quinn, Geoffrey Nauffts, Trey Cummins, Fred Melamed

"When the bomb is detonated in the middle of a city, it is as though a small piece of the sun has been instantly created."

--Philip Morrison, 1945.12.6

Some opportunities are more obvious than others, swelled as their salience seems for pique, pressure and perspective. An upcoming annual science fair in his native New York and the courtship of his mother (Eikenberry) by a nuclear physicist (Lithgow) inspire a mischievous teen genius (Collet) to pilfer particularly potent plutonium from a newly-erected laboratory where the elder egghead's employed as a supervisor. Late in the Cold War, what could be a more relevant and impressive project than a personal nuclear bomb? Woody Allen's most conventionally inventive collaborator bravely bares both his flair and failings in this underrated science fiction, which compulsively supposes a potentially explosive confluence of adolescent recklessness and the intellectual allure of dangerous technologies. Brickman's direction and script are equally fine, farced with witty dialogue and a satisfying romance between Collet's whiz kid and his co-conspirator/emergent girlfriend (Nixon). Withal, a couple of Brickman's and Baum's best scenes are all but speechless, such as their protagonist's infiltration of the laboratory and abstraction of radioactive specks suspended in gelled scintillant therein, executed with two Frisbees, an RC toy truck, and a catoptric array emplaced to direct the facility's powerful laser beam. His bomb's construction during a mandatory montage is fascinating enough to overcome the implausibility of its safety, and with quips and action aplenty, these proceedings are swiftly paced and tonally balanced. When a joint team of federal agents and military officials led by a suspicious Lieutenant Colonel (Mahoney) investigate Collet's homemade doomsday device, that playful parity of humor and suspense is sustained surprisingly well to a slightly sloppy but charming conclusion. The main theme of Philippe Sarde's jaunty score is derived equally from his autoplagiarized love theme in Le Choc and The First Noel, and subjected to numerous, cleverly melodic variations. For none of its few flaws did this ambitious feature deserve its critical and commercial failure.
Recommended for a double feature paired with WarGames.

Omar (2013)
Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad
Produced by Hany Abu-Assad, David Gerson, Waleed Zuaiter, Joana Zuaiter, Abbas F. Eddy Zuaiter, Ahmad F. Zuaiter, Farouq A. Zuaiter, Waleed Al-Ghafari, Zahi Khouri, Suhail A. Sikhtian, Baher Agbariya
Starring Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Waleed Zuaiter, Samer Bisharat, Eyad Hourani, Ramzi Maqdisi

"To do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it."

--Plato, Gorgias

On the high road where he steps lightly in concern of its political and religious facets to evade complications and assure the commercial and distributive viability of his pictures, Abu-Assad's cannily unveiled the humanity of the Palestinian struggle with Paradise Now, then this superior crime drama that demonstrates how dretchingly personal and martial imperatives can snarl. A baker (Bakri) regularly hazards gunfire by the IDF's snipers and their patrols' persecution to scale a border wall that segregates Palestinians from Israeli settlers in the West Bank, where he visits his militant friends (Hourani, Bisharat) and one's lovely sister (Lubany) with whom he's smitten. Jailed and railroaded for nicking a car as transportation to a military outpost where one of his buddies assassinates a soldier, he's taught by a gauntlet of incarceration, torture, betrayal, heartbreak, and the legerdemain by an agent (Zuaiter) of Shin Bet -- who offers him highly conditional freedom in exchange for his comrades -- that one of his own is as perfidious as their oppressors. Corporate perpetrators of stodgy, overproduced fare could learn something from Abu-Assad's economical feature, which is adeptly plotted, performed, shot and cut with lavish twists, a gripping pair of pursuits, one deeply moving, ruined romance, and an unforgettable conclusion, without a moment of hokum. It's also one of but a handful of movies to relate that for aggrieved Arabs and Jewish occupiers alike who participate in the everlasting conflict provoked and perpetuated by the world's most prosperous, parasitic, hypocritical, fraudulent and remorselessly abusive apartheid state, there is no contrition, no reprieve, no guarantee of anything, save death and reprisal.

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.

The Party (1968)
Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Blake Edwards, Tom Waldman, Frank Waldman
Produced by Blake Edwards, Ken Wales, Walter Mirisch
Starring Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Gavin MacLeod, J. Edward McKinley, Denny Miller, Steve Franken, Fay McKenzie, Kathe Green, Allen Jung, Danielle De Metz, Linda Gaye Scott, Herbert Ellis, Sharron Kimberly, Frances Davis, Timothy Scott, Jean Carson
Tati meets the Marx Brothers meets Mad Magazine, then bombs after its opening night, which concurred with Martin Luther King's assassination! Between Pink Panthers, Edwards and Sellers contrived this experimental extravaganza starring the comic genius in brownface as a cordial, calamitously clumsy Indian actor inadvertently invited to a soiree at the swankily hideous mansion of a studio executive (McKinley) whose war epic he's accidentally wrecked, where he repeatedly makes an ass of himself and a shambles of nearly everything he touches. Goofy revelry and mishaps ensue his encounters with the stuffy harbinger and his wife (McKenzie), a progressively drunken cater waiter (Franken), one friendly, French actress (Longet) accompanying a lecherous producer (MacLeod), a raucous star of Westerns (Miller) flirting with a juicy Italian actress (De Metz), and a painted elephant adopted by the hosts' sprightly daughter (Green), whose clamorous coterie further enlivens the party, as does a jazz band and a rumbustious, Russian ballet troupe. In wide static shots and drifting pans, slapstick stupidities partially improvised from Edwards' and the Waldmans' skeletal screenplay bump, bumble, stagger, stumble and crash in plotless luxury, as the gentle, inelegant Hindu and deliberately disorderly guests carouse with rising ruction to a riotously, redundantly sudsy culmination. Sensible viewers can safely ignore ludicrous leftists who liken Sellers' silly yet sensitive creation of his lovably mansuete goofball to minstrel shows. A victim of critical misevaluation and unfortunate coincidence, this commercial washout deserves reappraisal as a tarnished comedic gem of late Old Hollywood and Edwards' and Sellers' most daring collaboration, shot observationally with understated craft on a stupendous set populated by character actors who don't miss a beat. For such quality, and its commentary on the predatory predispositions of Tinseltown's loathsome elites and the culture shock that redounds to half of its protagonists' follies, this farce is a few cuts above.
Recommended for a double feature paired with A Shot in the Dark or Playtime.

Shallow Grave (1994)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by John Hodge
Produced by Andrew Macdonald, Allan Scott
Starring Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, Colin McCredie, Peter Mullan, Leonard O'Malley

"Greed is in: guilt is out."

--Anonymous, 1987

Applicants of Edinburgh seeking a room let in the ample apartment shared by a journalist (McGregor), a doctor (Fox) and an accountant (Eccleston) are by them subjected to a battery of jocose harassment and irritating interrogation, until a unflappably affable, purported novelist (Allen) impresses them with his sangfroid and a thick wad of bills for deposit and lodging. He perishes not a fortnight into his stay from heroin habituated, leaving his flatmates his corpse, a suitcase packed with cash, and their concomitant millstones: mounting anxiety, an inquirendo conducted by a sardonically subtle detective (Stott), and an eventual visit from a pair of truculent thugs (Mullan, O'Malley) who wouldn't think to let a few murders come between them and a small, stolen fortune. Still at the crown of their careers -- and superior to the wildly overrated Trainspotting -- Boyle's and Hodge's sharp, spare first feature was smoothly scripted and shot on a small budget to a deservedly warm reception. Pans at every common focal length and a modicum of gimmicky shots are as fun as raillery between the protagonal buddies before and after their relations sour, without ever diverting from terrific performances that propel every scene. One can't readily imagine anyone better suited severally to play this flick's queasy creep or obnoxious charmer than Eccleston and McGregor, and Allen quietly steals his few scenes, especially in discourse with Fox, who masterfully balances bitchy jest with glimpses of an underhand frigidity. Unfailingly funny and suspenseful, this umpteenth version of Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale instances how avariciousness and paranoia among some depredates friendships and lives alike.

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.

Valley of Love (2015)
Written and directed by Guillaume Nicloux
Produced by Catalina Restrepo, Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon, Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Genevieve Lemal, Patrick Batteux
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, Dan Warner, Aurélia Thiérrée
Is it truly a revenant's invitation, or a posthumous ruse to reunion? Two aging cinematic stars (Huppert, Depardieu) meet in Death Valley for a week to visit landmarks selectively scheduled for them in letters by their alienated son, posted proximal to his suicide eight months prior, which beseech their visitation for the promise of his own. Ailing under the western territory's oppressive ardor, they reminisce and wrangle through grievous stages with themselves, each other, her belief, his incredulity, and auspices that they can't easily interpret. Chilly Huppert and lumbering Depardieu perfectly play themselves as well as any characters, without a false note or needless motion in Nicloux's affecting and oracular fiction. No mere vehicle for its weathered leads, it delivers their fish out of continental waters to a transcendental confrontation that validates the endurance of filial love. Charles Ives's classic The Unanswered Question emphasizes its plural portentous profundities.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Loulou.

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.

Cries from the Heart, A.K.A. Touch of Truth (1994)
Directed by Michael Switzer
Written by Robert Inman
Produced by Linda L. Kent, Jack Grossbart, Joel S. Rice
Starring Melissa Gilbert, Patty Duke, Bradley Pierce, Markus Flanagan, Roger Aaron Brown, Lisa Banes, Peter Spears, Joe Chrest
Poised peckish and proximate across the menopausal rubicon, Gilbert and Duke reunite in this sappily stodgy drama addressing two of America's most prevalent phenomena. One single mother (Gilbert) concludes that she can't cope with the megrims and tantrums of her autistic son (Pierce), who she commends to residence at a school for developmentally impaired children. There, his pedagogue and communicational therapist (Duke) nurtures his self-reliance and capacitates him to type what he can't say through the controversial and abusable practice of facilitated communication. His text on their laptop's screen alerts her to sexual predation committed by his caretaker (Spears) after hours; whether it'll suffice as admissable and credible inculpatory testimony in court is quite another matter. Switzer's routine direction hardly curbs Inman's hokiest dialogue, delivered with particular zest by dedicatedly dowdy Gilbert. She's so invasively, irritably irrational as a beleaguered mother that anyone whose eyes roll at her senseless hysterics can't help but notice that the molestation suffered by her pitiable offspring isn't his only problem. It's serviceably hypnagogic when Gilbert and Duke aren't combatively clucking at each other.

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.

Fatal Charm (1990)
Directed by Fritz Kiersch
Written by Nicholas Niciphor
Produced by Bruce Cohn Curtis, Jonathan D. Krane, Douglass M. Stewart Jr., Chuck Marshall, John Strong
Starring Amanda Peterson, Christopher Atkins, Mary Frann, Lar Park-Lincoln, James Remar, Andrew Lowery, Andrew Robinson, Peggy Lipton, Ned Bellamy, Ken Foree, Robert Walker Jr., Shelley Smith
Fading starlet Peterson piddled the proximate twelfth of her destined fifteen famous minutes as an unconditionally unguarded high school senior garmented in frumpy frocks, who's obsessed with a handsome goon (Atkins) on trial for six rapes and murders, and convinced that such a megababe can't possibly be guilty! Following his conviction and incarceration, the lovable ladykiller's menaced by hulking inmates, then tranferred for his safety to a county jail, where a jailbreak permits him to visit his pneumatic pen pal. A palatable plot and cast keep this forgettably tawdry crime drama afloat, but most of its interesting actors are stinted screen time and dull dialogue. Severally, Frann, Remar, Robinson and Lipton are all cast well to types in their roles of Peterson's mother, her creepy boyfriend, a local sheriff and the trial's prosecutor; Foree makes the best of his juicier turn as an intimidating convict. Prettier and peppier than her co-star, Park-Lincoln outclasses Peterson in all of their best friends' shared scenes. Steamy seductions and slayings committed by Atkins's homicidal hunk (including gratuitous close-ups of his victims' T&A) are typical of Showtime's sinfully sultry fare.
Instead, watch The Guest.

In Defense of a Married Man (1990)
Directed by Joel Oliansky
Written by Sasha Ferrer, Norman Morrill
Produced by Linda Otto, Alan Landsburg, Howard Lipstone
Starring Judith Light, Michael Ontkean, Jerry Orbach, Pat Corley, Nicholas Campbell, Johnny Galecki, Cynthia Sikes, Tony Rosato, Gema Zamprogna, Errol Slue, John Colicos, Patricia Hamilton, Bob Zidel, David Hemblen, Colin Fox
Under most conditions, an eminent attorney (Light) would risk recusal by defending her husband (Ontkean) in court against a charge of murder; as the deceased (Sikes) was his colleague and mistress, any objections from the prosecution (Campbell) regarding conflict of interest are at best untenable. Ferrer and Morrill fished for ratings by outrage and likely landed every middle-aged housewife who exclaimed, "Well, they should leave him in jail for a while, anyway," after stomaching this courtroom drama's first half-hour over thirty years ago, but its succulent story's plotted and scripted well enough for any casual viewer's enjoyment. Low-grade photography and editing are offset by credibly tense performances from a reliable cast (excepting rotund Corley as one of the arresting investigators, who seems to be impersonating William Hootkins's corrupt detective from Burton's Batman a year anterior). Light, Ontkean and Orbach were all contemporaneously or contiguously observable during prime time (on Who's The Boss?, Twin Peaks and Law and Order, respectively). They're cast in congruence, but anyone alert can deduce the dumped doxy's mysterious murder...especially those who've seen Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Holidays (2016)
Directed by Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer; Gary Shore; Nicholas McCarthy; Sarah Adina Smith; Anthony Scott Burns; Kevin Smith; Scott Stewart; Adam Egypt Mortimer
Written by Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer; Gary Shore; Nicholas McCarthy; Sarah Adina Smith; Anthony Scott Burns; Kevin Smith; Scott Stewart; Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Produced by Tim Connors, Kyle Franke, John Hegeman, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Louise Shore, Aram Tertzakian, Dwjuan F. Fox, Brian James Fitzpatrick, Spencer Jezewski, Gabriela Revilla Lugo, Olivia Roush, Georg Kallert, Rob Schroeder, Peter J. Nieves; Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer, Jon D. Wagner, Adam Goldworm; Jonathan Loughran, Gary Shore; Stephanie Paris; Jonako Donley; Nicholas Bechard; Joshua Bachove, Jordan Monsanto, Kevin Smith; Amanda Mortimer, Jaime Gallagher, Jason Hampton, Sharmila Sahni; James Avery, Andrew Barrer, Nate Bolotin, Roger Coleman, Gabriel Ferrari, Will Rowbotham, Nick Spicer
Starring Madeleine Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, Rick Peters; Ruth Bradley, Isolt McCaffrey; Ava Acres, Petra Wright, Mark Steger; Sophie Traub, Aleksa Palladino, Jennifer Lafleur, Sheila Vand, Sonja Kinski; Jocelin Donahue, Michael Gross; Harley Morenstein, Harley Quinn Smith, Ashley Greene, Olivia Roush; Seth Green, Clare Grant, Kalos Cluff; Lorenza Izzo, Andrew Bowen, Megan Duffy
The best among this octad of shorts set during popular holidays are amusing or arresting, and the worst will leave one wondering how much sway and resources were wasted to insure their inclusion. Both a homely teenager (Coghlan) and her pretty, popular bully (Kennick) long for the affection and attention of their handsome swim coach (Peters); as Valentine's Day and a talent show organized by the bitchy blond to raise money for his coronary surgery approach, her harried victim dementedly devises a way to kill two birds with one rock. After a one-night stand during St. Patrick's Day, a childless teacher (Bradley) finds that her creepy, newly-enrolled student (McCaffrey) is inexplicably aware of her gravidity, but an anguine offspring isn't what she'd expected. A trepid little girl (Acres) terrfied by sacred and secular legendry is scarcely stanched by her single mother (Wright) on the eve of Easter, and a nocturnal encounter with a stigmatic, leporine monster (Steger) confirms that her fears are not merely justified, but consubstantial. One young woman (Traub) is cursed to conceive -- regardless of contraception -- after her every copulation; following nearly a score of abortions, her physician (Lafleur) refers her to a woman (Palladino) who conducts ceremonies to promote fertility in the high desert, and meditates to celebrate Mother's Day by cultivating hew latest attendee... Recorded by her dad (Gross) on the Father's Day when he vanished decades before, an audiocassette's program guides a lonely schoolteacher (Donahue) back to the littoral locus where it happened, and possibly to his fate. Rather than let the camgirls (Smith, Greene, Roush) in his employ out to party for Halloween, a perverted, pigtailed pimp (Morenstein) tries to rape one of them and falls afoul of their revenge. By theft and criminal negligence on Christmas Eve, a gutless father (Green) procures for his son (Cluff) immersive VR glasses that rely on online information to personalize each wearer's entertainment. He's commoved and contrite to discover that they also channel mnemonic data, but soon learns that he's not the worst malefactor in his household. Seeking another date after he murders his first (Duffy), an awkward, hypersensitive, homicidal maniac meets a lonely lady (Izzo) on New Year's Eve, but may not live to regret that they've too much in common. First, the worst: like all of his output, Smith's segment is obnoxiously overacted, shoddily shot and cut, aggressively unfunny and pointless save as an excuse to grant both his annoying daughter and fellow epulose parasite Morenstein more undeserved screen credits. That a man with over twenty years of professional experience still produces movies this amateurish is astonishing. Better yet tiresome, Kölsch and Widmyer's cordial contribution is well crafted but perfectly predictable, for which Kennick's porky performance seems less an homage to De Palma than to Tarantino. Neither has (S. A.) Smith any surprises in her hoary ode to unbid maternity. Mortimer's handling of Kölsch and Widmyer's second script is equally mediocre though much more lively, gorily ringing in a new year. A cut above these, McCarthy's syncretic reconception of the messiah is just clever enough to deserve a viewing. His sillier, superior, serpentine synthesis of Irish and Norse folklore results in Shore's pompadoured black comedy, one of St. Patty's few filmic lampoons. Eminently photogenic Donahue's once again a believable unfortunate in Burns' genuinely original, recursive vignette, in deserted settings of which he cumulates tremendous suspense with fine composition and his star's potent presence, regrettably squandered on a silly climax undermining a conclusion that might've been chilling. Stewart's penultimate comedy is probably the best of these, working a fun scenario and Green's terrific comic knack for hilarious results. Promotional materials touted this anthology as "subversive" at the honed edge of X-treme marketing, but there's little here that one could consider genuine subversion, itself a fait accompli imputable to commerce. At this late date, the jest in a few of these is but an afterthought. A salient absence of Jewish and Muslim holidays further explodes any lingering pretense of authentic audacity. Those few palatable portions do not a tasty cake make, the most significant slice of which oughtn't have been intrusted to the moronic, perennially feckless celebrity.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Tales from the Crypt.

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.

Max Dugan Returns (1983)
Directed by Herbert Ross
Written by Neil Simon
Produced by Herbert Ross, Neil Simon, Roger M. Rothstein
Starring Marsha Mason, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland, Matthew Broderick, Dody Goodman, Charley Lau, Sal Viscuso
That title suggests a sequel that isn't, and hardly contributed to the fortune of this fair flop, which exhibits its big names operating at mixed competencies. Twenty-eight years and a consequential chasm of bitterness are measured by a glib and wily scamster (Robards) when he pays a visit to his estranged daughter, a lucklessly penurious schoolteacher (Mason), who first spurns the shady old goat's $687K of purloined cash offered in exchange for their rapprochement and quality time with his grandson (Broderick)...until his entreaty elaborates that his final few forthcoming months are especially precious, ere his failing heart beats its last. Within his first week of residence with them, he buys new appliances and utensils to replace those aged and faulty in their kitchen, and for her son a deluxe entertainment center, boombox, camcorder, and batting lessons courtesy of former ballplayer and batting coach Lau...while inadvertently drawing unwanted notice from the dexterous, decided detective (Sutherland) who may not be so smitten with his daughter as to ignore mounting felonious clues. Simon's specially snappy script should satisfy his fans: his every other line's an amusing zinger, and nary a single conversation's bereft of badinage that meets his usual standard. Would that his story was as solid as his dialogue and premise, for so much of it is nonsensical. Why does Robards's ex-con tender his largess with increasing conspicuity when he's otherwise so cautious in concern of the police's attentions? Why is he intent on domiciling with his daughter and incidentally involving her as a apparent accessory to his criminality? What's the point of his mythomaniacal machinations when they elicit so few laughs and waste screen time when enjoyable elusion might occur? By opting for spectacle over little surprises to satisfy cinematic conventions, Simon produced a middling, porously plotted tale that could've been much more engaging. Robards is charismatically, unfailingly funny as the titular principal, masterfully balancing pathos and irreverence as an incurable constrained but never discouraged by remorse and moribundity. In equally fine form, Sutherland underplays what too many actors wouldn't to quietly stress his character's cunning, and Broderick makes the most of his winsome, one-dimensional onscreen debut. The weak link here is Mason, who hits her marks as well as the leading men but plays her hapless widow as an unappealingly shrill shrew. Sensible casting in lieu of Simon's misplaced nepotism would've assigned her role to a bubblier actress like Catherine Hicks, who could invest it with felicity, and bears to Mason no small physical and esp. vocal resemblance. David Shire's score is pleasant enough, but dated and distractingly miscued; it belongs to some much more energetic comedy produced twenty years prior. Analogously anachronistic are the opening and end titles animated by Kurtz & Friends, which are cute but would've better befit a Saturday-morning cartoon, circa '72. This picture represents a decussation of several careers' trajectories: Broderick would attain stardom in WarGames a few months later, and Kiefer Sutherland can be spied in a cameo, but after a string of filmic collaborations, it was Simon's last with both Ross and Mason, who divorced him shortly after its underwhelming theatrical run. His commendation of familial fidelity is admirable, but Simon's stagey focus on chatter and neglect of structure seldom recommended him...in this medium.

Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987)
Directed by Hal Sutherland
Written by Robby London, Barry O'Brien, Dennis O'Flaherty
Produced by Lou Scheimer, Erika Scheimer, Robby London, John Grusd
Starring Scott Grimes, Jonathan Harris, Don Knotts, Edward Asner, Frank Welker, William Windom, Tom Bosley, Rickie Lee Jones, Lana Beeson, James Earl Jones, Linda Gary
Flush with lucre in its twilight years for successful, crudely animated adaptations of He-Man, She-Ra and all those other Masters of the Universe, Filmation leapt late upon Disney's coattails to exploit Carlo Collodi's classic juvenile novel; as one might expect, the results are at best pedestrian, and at worst as shoddy as a theatrical cartoon comes. On his first human birthday, the transmuted tot (Grimes) offers to deliver a jeweled box crafted by Geppetto (Bosley) for a mayoral commission that represents the modest acme of the craftsman's career; he's fleeced forthwith of the handicraft by a procyonine diddler (Asner) and his fezzed, primate secondary (Welker), and during misadventures largely consequent of his many betises, the guileless stripling finds himself twice relignified by a ghoulishly sorcerous puppeteer (Windom) and his satanic master (Jones), despite the subvention of the foregoing finaglers, an arrogant, apian aviator (Harris) and a wooden glowworm (Knotts). Co-founder Sutherland concluded his directorial career with this apparently well-intentioned feature, which is but a slight qualitative cut above Filmation's usual fare: uninspired character design and low framerates are partially counterbalanced by prettily painted backgrounds and foregrounds, and some fair photic effects, a few of which are imaginatively rotoscoped. Alas, this movie's overplus of unfunny comic relief padding its runtime by temporization is likely only to amuse the smallest kids, who might well be traumatized by some of its nightmarish scenes. Charmlessly cloying but inoffensive, its vocal dream cast is the most notable distinction of a product marketed to kids who couldn't be bothered to care.
Instead, watch Unico in the Island of Magic.

Sex Doll (2016)
Written and directed by Sylvie Verheyde
Produced by Bruno Berthemy, Bertrand Faivre, Soledad Gatti-Pascual, Rachel Dargavel
Starring Hafsia Herzi, Ash Stymest, Karole Rocher, Lindsay Karamoh, Myriam Djeljeli, Paul Hamy, Ira Max, Jeremy Bennett, Simon Killick
Not by chance do the paths of an experienced Franco-Algerian call girl (Herzi) and an obscure oddball (Stymest) dedicated to rescuing cocottes from their profession cross often in London, before her madam (Rocher) sends her and a budding bawd (Max) to a manse for a weekend when they're to entertain wealthy clients (Bennett, Killick). Verheyde's direction is compositionally satisfactory, but her mushy meliorist's misconception of human nature -- if not prostitution -- is as inaccurate (though more naif) as the wholly transactional perspective of the neoliberal. Worse, its influence on her dialogue redounds to mortifying moments of outright ostentation during a few critical conversations. Ick! A current fixture of flat, footling French flicks, lushly photogenic Herzi seems less sultrily seductive than snoozily sulky, but she's as creditable as most of her co-stars, bar scrawny Stymest, an unbearably stiff ham whose asinine tattoos and face render his self-styled savior more halfwit than hero. If the characters of this tedious Anglo-French production were as compelling as Verheyde's developmental aspirations, she might've overcome her deadly pomposity.
Instead, watch The Chosen Ones.

The Stranger Beside Me (1995)
Directed by Sandor Stern
Written by Bruce Miller
Produced by William Shippey, Nick Smirnoff, Ronnie D. Clemmer, Richard P. Kughn, Bill Pace
Starring Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Eric Close, Gerald McRaney, Lorrie Morgan, Alyson Hannigan, Steven Eckholdt, Casey Sander, Patrick Labyorteaux, Robert Crow, Suzanne Ventulett, Darrin Long, James Quattrochi, Suzanne Turner
So many compulsives can never be satisfied, such as a naval seaman (Close) who spends too many free and unaccompanied hours peeping and raping pretty blondes in his neighborhood. His sweet, steadfast spouse (Thiessen) stands by him until she's confronted with incontestable evidence of his deviant recidivism, then investigates a succeeding string of sexual assaults for which he's obviously responsible in an attempt to forestall more, and protect their newborn daughter. Viewers familiar with Stern's usual docudramatic sexual misconduct-by-numbers (Without Her Consent, Web of Deceit) know what to expect from this competently shot, crudely cut, moderately goofy thriller, which rides on fair performances by charismatically creepy Close, luscious Thiessen at her popularity's pinnacle, and McRaney as her disabled, avuncular buddy. Hannigan's meanwhile less chafing than usual as the flagitious rape artist's pouty, posttraumatic cousin. Everyone here fares variably with Miller's soupy script, but for whomever prefer their television tawdry, these 90+ minutes beautified by their photogenic leads will be pleasantly spent.

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.

Superman III (1983)
Directed by Richard Lester
Written by David Newman, Leslie Newman
Produced by Pierre Spengler, Robert Simmonds, Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind
Starring Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Pamela Stephenson, Annie Ross, Annette O'Toole, Gavan O'Herlihy, Marc McClure, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder
Robert Donner's ill-advised termination from the production of Superman II was followed by Richard Lester's radical reshoots and redirection, which resulted in a fun but decidedly desipient campout. This second sequel is -- in sequence and magnitude -- much more of the same, an uninhibited farce that's likely to keep viewers laughing...and wondering whether the Salkinds were partaking in Richard Pryor's copious cache of cocaine. A lovably, hitherto unemployably doltish autistic savant (Pryor) finds his forte after years of penniless hardship as a programmer for a multinational conglomerate where he scarcely subsists on a stingy salary. To supplement his income, he resorts to the salami technique, thieving hundreds of thousands of unpaid half-cents until his conspicuous consumption almost immediately signals this fraud to the company's tyrannical tycoon (Vaughn), who exploits his genius for computation and programming to commit perverse, profitable plots, all of which are foiled by The Man of Steel. The halfwitted hacker's then tasked with the synthesis of Kryptonite to solve his employer's heroic problem, but by substituting tar for an unknown element in the radioactive compound, he accidentally produces an inferior imitation that depraves Superman into a boozy, churlish, cyprian prankster. Two points are readily evident from Lester's steadfastly silly style: his fondness for skillfully staged, lowbrow humor, and absolutely none of the veneration for his source material that Donner, Puzo and the Newmans exhibited before him. This is a mean fantasy, though a fine comedy, replete with fun visual gags (as throughout a disastrously slapstick exordium) and risible delivery and improvisation from its leads; unsurprisingly, wacky Pryor and wry Vaughn are hilarious in this capacity. Reeve's as affably bland as ever (and convincingly vicious as the iconic protagonist's vile variant), slickly pattering with Cooper, McClure, O'Herlihy, and gawkily cute O'Toole as once and present crush Lana Lang in lieu of Lois Lane, here restricted to not five minutes onscreen after Margot Kidder insubordinately protested Donner's dismission. Production values are mixed: good costuming and several splendidly sumptuous sets can't compensate for schlocky special effects (most notably and inexplicably those front-projected), or excessive B-roll and recycled footage, much of which was shot for the first two films; Geoffrey Unsworth's picturesque establishing shots are clearly, contiguously contradistinct from Robert Paynter's intentionally lusterless footage. After a remuneratory yet disappointing theatrical run, III was omnipresent on telecasts and especially cablecasts through the remaining '80s; nary a late Xer hasn't seen the purgation whereby our polluted superhero somehow sunders into sinful Superman (Reeve) and upright Clark Kent (Reeve) to trade blows in a junkyard. It makes as little sense as most else before and after, but for whoever's willing to leave logic behind, Lester's expensive, nearly surreal antics might just tickle anyone willing to interpret them as a parody of the Silver and Bronze Eras.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Office Space.

Teenage Cocktail (2016)
Directed by John Carchietta
Written by Amelia Yokel, John Carchietta, Sage Bannick, Chris Sivertson
Produced by Travis Stevens, Chris Sivertson, Jade Porter II, Nick Zuvic, Jean-Baptiste Babin, David Atlan Jackson, Joel Thibout
Starring Nichole Sakura, Fabianne Therese, Pat Healy, Michelle Borth, A.J. Bowen, Joshua Leonard, Zak Henri, Lou Wegner, River Alexander, Laura Covelli, Isaac Salzman
They could in remunerative repose cam to their hearts' and PayPal accounts' content anywhere, but a voracity for relocation to polluted, overcrowded, overtaxed, climatically intemperate NYC spurs two sapphic, Californian ditzes (Sakura, Therese) to an inadvisable tryst with and blackmail of an unstable patron (Healy), which ends in disaster. Roundly good performances, Justin Kane's cinematography, and a cozily synthesized score by Steve Damstra and Mads Heldtberg comprise the substance of this capably made but vapidly anaphrodisiac drama. Healy's always convincing as a picayune miscreant, and creepily outshines his co-stars. Conflicts and motivations of Yokel's story are equally musty, until all plausibility is jettisoned during a ludicrously bloody culmination. This is barely recommended for completists resolved to see everything in which perennial transgressors Healy and Bowen (who has nothing of interest to do as a platitudinous principal) appear.
Instead, watch Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

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, John Mazzello, Gary Frank, Season Hubley, Bebe Neuwirth, Mark Harelik, Gregory Sierra, Bess Meyer, James Handy, Maureen Mueller, Sam Behrens, Valerie Landsburg, Jeff Seymour, David Wilson, Ashleigh Sterling, Alan Sader, Jenny Gago, Paul Eiding, Maria Cavaiani, Rick Warner, Terence Knox, Guy Stockwell, Byrne Piven, Laura Owens
Onscreen, it seems so simple: children and infants of an upscale neighborhood in Miami-Dade County are entrusted by their parents to a babysitting couple (Sierra, Meyer) who introduce them to collectively sexual sport and threaten them with Satanic rituals; after the deranged couple's ineludible arrests, married, compassionate juvenile psychologists Laurie and Joseph Braga (Clayburgh, Davis) gently pry confessions of these abominations from the older victims to successfully inculpate their assailants and secure their convictions, despite the pettifoggery of their defense (Samek, Stockwell). Both this televised docudrama and the book on which it was based (penned by former television reporter Hollingsworth while in the therapists' employ as a consultant) alter and omit numerous crucial details: the Bragas were not accredited criminal psychologists and coerced the victims during interviews; co-defendant Ileana Fuster was subjected by the prosecution and her defense attorney to a lengthy series of aggressive interrogations and probable hypnotism, then blatantly coached when providing a deposition as a witness against her husband, Francisco Fuster-Escalona; their adopted son, who has maintained their innocence for decades, is here depicted as a little girl (Cavaiani) tormented by their atrocities; most significantly, Janet Reno prosecuted the Fusters while serving as Miami-Dade's State's Attorney with the same unscrupulous and energetic efficiency that characterized her stint as the United States' Attorney General, using a discredited and unethical methodology that also led to two wrongful convictions of accused sexual offenders, who were later exonerated -- yet despite her authority and individual conduct in this case, she's only mentioned twice by her inferiors. Previously convicted for counts of assault, manslaughter and child molestation, Fuster-Escalona's culpability is overwhelmingly probable, corroborated by consonant confessions of his victims to their parents before they reported them in turn to the authorities, as well as symptoms of sexual abuse observed by their doctors. However, the question of prosecutorial misconduct is never seriously raised in this unconscionable fictionalization, characterizations of which are childishly broad, presented melodramatically to manipulate unsuspecting audiences. Performances among the ensemble vary drastically in quality. As the heroic kiddieshrinks, Clayburgh is surpassing and Davis charismatic, though he untypically overacts certain scenes, weirdly coiffed with a preposterous ponytail. Neuwirth, Mueller and Hubley are especially convincing as mothers of the traumatized tots, and Sierra greasily exudes their abuser's slimy perversity. That any of the players under Otto's ham-fisted direction breathed plausibility to Landsburg's, Anderson's and Strauss's schmaltzy script -- itself emotively and expositionally bounteous with cornball conversations -- is a testament to their talent. In reality, the improprieties of this movie's protagonists casts as much doubt on the validity of its judicial proceedings as Ileana Fuster's famously inconstant claims regarding its verdict. Fuster-Escalona is likely where he belongs, but one can only wonder.

Vernon, Florida (1981)
Directed by Errol Morris
Produced by Errol Morris, David R. Loxton
Starring Albert Bitterling, Roscoe Collins, George Harris, Joe Payne, Howard Pettis, Claude Register, Snake Reynolds, Henry Shipes
During the '50s and '60s, residents of the tiny northern Floridian city (pop. approx. 800) submitted a superfluity of insurance claims professing accidental dismemberments, which amounted to two-thirds of all such requests filed nationally. This deviant distinction prompted speculation that many applicants amputated their own limbs for quick cash, and coinage of a grisly byname. Nub City was also to be the title of a documentary wherein Morris probed these bruits, but local oppugnancy deterred his enquiry. Instead, this mild, genial presentation of Vernon's eccentric provincials is couched in the town's ambience and anecdotes, of hunting turkeys, farming worms, a dead mule, one mysterious gunshot, encroaching sands, a casual suicide, lexical research informing a quirky sermon. Don't expect the uncoordinated humor or poignance of Gates of Heaven; produced between two of Morris's early classics, his second feature is sometimes discursively dull, but as straight as its subjects.

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Recommended for a double feature paired with .


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.

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
Produced by Charles Gillibert, Karl Baumgartner, Thanassis Karathanos, Jean-Louis Porchet, Olivier Père, Gérard Ruey, Antoun Sehnaoui, Martin Hampel, Maja Wieser Benedetti, Sylvie Barthet
Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Lars Eidinger, Hanns Zischler, Johnny Flynn, Angela Winkler, Brady Corbet, Aljoscha Stadelmann, Ricardia Bramley

Lies and bombast:

"Any doubts about Kristen Stewart's true acting potential are extinguished thanks to her surprisingly nuanced and mesmerizing performance in Clouds of Sils Maria."

--Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist

"...this is a straight character piece, made dynamic by Binoche and Stewart's powerhouse performances..."

--Chris Bumbray, JoBlo.com

"Stewart gives a striking performance in Clouds. Her character Val, a personal assistant and rock of Gibraltar to Juliette Binoche's film and stage star Maria, is self-assured, crafty, honest, perceptive and even a little bit warm. It's a 180 from the dead-behind-the-eyes Bella Swan, yet there's the same flat delivery and crossed-arm presence. Here it radiates confidence, not Edward vs. Jacob indecision. Most of the film is just Stewart and Binoche in conversation, and Stewart more than holds her own."

--Jordan Hoffman, Vanity Fair

"The relationship here is quite beautifully drawn, with Stewart again demonstrating what a terrific performer she can be away from the shadow of Twilight. She's sharp and limber; she's a match for Binoche."

--Xan Brooks, The Guardian

"Binoche works in a more animated register, which makes Stewart's habitual low-keyed style, which can border on the monotone, function as effectively underplayed contrast."

--Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

"Stewart became the first American female actor ever to win a César for her performance. It's deserved. She's a revelation, reminding us that her talent has been eclipsed by Twilight for far too long."

--Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW Toronto

"Ultimately, Stewart is the one who actually embodies what Binoche's character most fears, countering the older actress' more studied technique with the same spontaneous, agitated energy that makes her the most compellingly watchable American actress of her generation."

--Peter Debruge, Variety

"Stewart is surprisingly self-assured as both a punching bag and launching pad for Binoche's tour de force."

--Diego Semerene, Slant

"Stewart is also at her best and convincingly conveys an important quality which so far has rather eluded her, a keen intelligence."

--David Noh, Film Journal International

"...(Kristen Stewart, a deadpan revelation)..."

--David Ehrlich, Time Out

"This is the film that fulfills whatever promise Kristen Stewart has shown for more than a decade. [...] As one-half of a dynamite acting duo in Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart finally merits all the attention thrown her way. [...] Stewart's strength here is being the kind of actress we always suspected she could be."

--Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News

"If the juxtaposition of "fascinating" and "Kristen Stewart" stopped you cold, this is the film that should, by rights, warm you up to her. [...] Binoche, Stewart, and Moretz can disappear into their roles and at the same time stand outside them - a Buddhist ideal."

--David Edelstein, Vulture

"Kristen Stewart is cool perfection as her assistant, giving as good as she gets despite the power imbalance in their relationship."

--Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

"A meditation on fame, acting, aging, and acceptance, Clouds is a multilayered rapture on the subject of woman, performing. Not only does the film demand repeat viewings, it rewards them."

--Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Whether they were bribed by one or more of this movie's numerous producers or distributors (one hopes that Les Films du Losange wouldn't stoop to such iniquity) to disseminate fawning, fatuous falsehoods, or with venal idiocy convinced themselves that their blurbs above are at all accurate, the panegyrical deluge of these hacks ultimately amounts to nullity, much like Assayas's overrated pap.

In her youth, an actress (Binoche) rose to prominence on stage, then screen in the role of a callously cavalier demoiselle seducing an established, married mother and inheritor of a troubled company, whose suicide eventuates when she's unavoidably jilted. Decades later, a successful theatrical director (Eidinger) revives this play immediate to its author's sudden demise, and invites the quondam ingenue -- now frampold, flush with fame and fortune, and freshly divorced with her capable but trendily philistine adjunct (Stewart) in tow -- to assume its tragic senior lead opposite a notoriously wayward Hollywood star (Moretz). Scene after scene of sophomoric, excruciatingly expository dialogue as amateurish as Stewart's, Moretz's and Flynn's performances reflect just how incompetently Assayas scripted this mess and directed his cast. Binoche is palatable when she isn't overburdened with leaden lines, yet heinously hammy in others. She affects a peevingly puerile swagger whenever her splenetic superstar's tipsy, bobbing her noggin like Sam Waterston in an episode of Law & Order, perhaps to counterbalance the void with whom she's paired. Again, every paid critic who lauded this movie is dishonest or deluded, because slouching, plankish, unbrushed, occasionally uptalking, stupidly tattooed Kristin Stewart cannot act, which is why she's still monotonously reciting and volleying lines that she clearly struggles to recall. Nonetheless, she's not so embarrassing as Moretz, whose clownish physiognomy consorts with her gushingly callow delivery, especially in confabulation with her boyfriend, a novelist gaumlessly enacted by Flynn with an inanimacy to rival or exceed Stewart's. Eidinger represents his sensitive, dramaturgic visionary with a smooth virtuosity shared by Zischler as an aging actor whose personal and professional past is thornily entangled with Binoche's, largely because they haven't anything abashing to say. Assayas's story and all who inhabit it are easily outshone by his and DP Yorick Le Saux's majestic, wintery then vernal Alpine panoramas, and particularly therethrough the Maloja Snake, a magnificent climatic phenomenon of clouds creeping low and sinuate through the Maloja Pass.

Not too many years ago, Assayas was still parading talented leading ladies in unexceptional vehicles (Irma Vep, Clean, Boarding Gate). Wading into conceptual depths once occupied by heavyweights (Bergman, Mankiewicz, Truffault, Cassavetes) with adequate technique and thoughtful characterizations, his wretchedly corny, jejune verbiage reveal the limits of his intuition and intellect, and how poorly he interprets and contrives psychology. Insights only glint when Binoche's histrion and Stewart's subaltern grapple in labored, private rehearsals at and while hiking about its late dramatist's chalet in pastoral municipality Sils Maria. One scene from a ridiculous space opera that they view in theater starring Moretz's wild child drolly parodies mindless genre fare, but when Stewart subsequently agonizes to defend the movie's thematic legitimacy to bibulous Binoche's rident despite, they play off one other ticklingly, as they ought've throughout. Glutted with trashy scandals, ungainly and often reiterated oral histories for the benefit of a presumably obtuse and unmindful audience, hungover Stewart's roadside disgorgement, and comparisons and contrasts of enduring erudite forms and an increasingly, rightly unpopular popular culture, this movie's repeatedly distracted from its burden: how the interrelations of its characters mirror and affect facets of their professional roles, fictional and otherwise. Assayas treats of commonplace and promising themes fleetingly, or as inconclusively as so many of his fizzled discussions. Although it's filmed well, this pic's transitional pace is disrupted by its interstitial cuts, dissolves and fades, all as clumsily mistimed as its soundtrack's bathetic application of beautifully dulcet, familiar movements by Pachelbel, Spohr and Handel.

All of the shills, favors and accolades paid can't redeem this pabulum's monetary losses (on a relatively small budget) and half-baked insipidity, however such artifices are manifest: its nomination for the Palme d'Or at Cannes; Stewart's unduly awarded César (which only underscores its cultural irrelevance at this point); Chanel's subvention in exchange for the conspicuity of their raiment, finery, maquillage and logo therein; prompt issuance of the Criterion Collection's DVD and Blu-ray editions; simpleminded and superabundant reviews containing varieties of witlessly hyphenated terms prepended with "meta-." All of this merely confirms that this cynically marketed product presented as filmic art has failed thoroughly as both.

Instead, watch All About Eve, Day for Night, Opening Night, or Sex is Comedy.

The Damned, A.K.A. Gallows Hill (2013)
Directed by Víctor García
Written by Richard D'Ovidio, David Higgins
Produced by Peter Block, Andrea Chung, David Higgins, Richard D'Ovidio, Cristina Villar, Mauricio Ardila, Julián Giraldo
Starring Peter Facinelli, Sophia Myles, Nathalia Ramos, Sebastian Martínez, Carolina Guerra, Juan Pablo Gamboa, Gustavo Angarita, Julieta Salazar
Preteen girls might be rattled by this hackneyed horror's witching-by-numbers, as drippy and dreary a contribution to the genre as any in the past decade. En route from Bogotá to Medellín, a flash flood and their everyday idiocy strand a photographer (Facinelli) and his fiancée (Myles), opportunistic sister-in-law (Guerra), irksome daughter (Ramos), and her boyfriend (Martínez) in Colombian backcountry, where they find shelter from an unceasing downpour in a hotel that's been shuttered for nearly thirty-five years. Against warnings from its aged proprietor (Angarita), that aforementioned stupidity motivates them to free from his basement a suspiciously imprisoned girl (Salazar), along with the dead witch who's possessed and preserved her. Despite a few bright ideas invested in D'Ovidio's story and Asdrúbal Medina's fastidiously fine production design, any hope for a single scare's smothered by syrupy reminiscence, unconvincing CG, a sequence of exhausted cliches and Frederik Wiedmann's hoary score, which reliably disturbs any emerging trace of spooky mood. Facinelli's blandly adequate as a milksop who's as senselessly unprepared for action as the rest of his party, and so a fit lead subject to García's able, unremarkable direction. Were Ramos less obnoxious, and D'Ovidio's and Higgins' dialogue not so bathetic, this might've been mediocre.
Instead, watch either version of The Old Dark House.

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.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Directed by Marielle Heller
Written by Phoebe Gloeckner, Marielle Heller
Produced by Miranda Bailey, Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Madeline Samit, Debbie Brubaker, Corentin De Saedeleer, Shani Geva, Amanda Marshall, Amy Nauiokas, Michael Sagol, Jorma Taccone
Starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig, Madeleine Waters, Abby Wait, Austin Lyon, Christopher Meloni, Margarita Levieva, Carson Mell, John Parsons, Quinn Nagle
In a fraction of the time trifled to view this plodding drama (adapted from one among umpteen interchangeable graphic bildungsromans authored and illustrated by introspective nudnicks), one could instead dive headfirst into a wading pool to experience a comparable depth and discomfort suffered. A homely, naive, adolescent cartoonist (Powley) in 1976 San Francisco doodles ceaselessly, idolizes Aline Kominsky, languishes in self-absorbed insecurity, and thrills to initial trysts with the sordid boyfriend (Skarsgård) of her sluttish, alcoholic single mother (Wiig), then a cute classmate (Lyon) unprepared for her lasciviousness. Successive clichés compose the bulk of Gloeckner's quasi-autobiographical pablum: teenage defloration with an adult, animated sketches conveying immediate passions, a miff with responsibly uncool dad (Meloni), Mom's coked-up capers and dancing wassails, a midnight screening of Rocky Horror, sapphic and whorish dalliances with skanky friends (Waters, Levieva), a fanciful acid trip, and that requisite assertion of feminine independence, which has for decades empowered and enkindled privileged white women the world over to irreparably wreck their lives. Mustachioed Skarsgård and ginchy Wiig lend odious believability to their roles as the sort of unseemly couple with whom anyone's boomer parents might've made acquaintance, but Powley and some of her coetaneous co-stars too often diverge from naturalism to overact. Passable production design by Jonah Markowitz benefits from exteriors shot on location in San Fran, Carmen Grande's largely hideous, accurate costumery and Emily K. Rolph's nostalgically tacky appointments. However, Susan Alegria's set decoration spoils each interior's realism with a surplusage of the latter, arranged as characteristically millennial clutter uncommon in middle-class households of the shaggy '70s. Everything in this unfunny, unsexy story has been done exhaustively before with a proficiency and profundity to which tasteless Gloeckner and Heller merely aspire, but if nothing else, it's a fine reminder first of how tired the illogic, postures, dysfunction and repercussions of the sexual revolution and its creaky counterculture have become, and second just how effortlessly one can separate visionary rips (like Crumb or Kominsky) from commonplace degenerates, most of whom are as noisily boring as they're portrayed here.
Instead, watch Slums of Beverly Hills.

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.

Hot Girls Wanted (2015)
Directed by Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus
Written by Brittany Huckabee
Produced by Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus, Rashida Jones, Brittany Huckabee, Mary Anne Franks, Debby Herbenick, Bryant Paul, Daniel Raiffe, Kat Vecchio, Abigail Disney, Barbara Dobkin, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Chandra Jessee, Evan Krauss, Ann Lovell, Julie Parker Benello, Gini Reticker, Jacki Zehner
Starring Tressa Silguero, Riley Reynolds, Rachel Bernard, Kendall Plemons, Kelly Silguero, Emeterio Silguero, Ava Kelly, Lucy Tyler, Michelle Toomey, Ivan H. Itzkowitz III, Levi Cash, Tony D.
In this abhorrent age when exhibitionism and prostitution are selectively celebrated, nobody comes cheaper than an amateur pornstar, such as several vacuous vicenarians and teens (Silguero, Bernard, Tyler, Toomey, et aliae) by Craigslist procured, then housed in a Miamian residence by an oafish "talent agent" (Reynolds). These halfwitted harlots earn an average pittance of $800 per shoot (approximately $2,400-$4,000 weekly), yet pay steep vestural and medical costs while sustaining much more physical and emotional wear than moderately successful camgirls and models who've superior recompense. Bauer's and Gradus's sloppily shot documentary accidentally divulges these girls as opportunistically obscene yet gullibly gormless and remarkably self-centered, less victims than fungible, cretinous, covetous cogs who extenuate their degrading, entirely elective profession in a tired and contracting industry that competes with homemade pornography and relatively restrained streaming sluts by working cheap, disposable, superabundant talent. Somberly, suggestively depreciative intertitles cite statistical data regarding the popularity of amateur porn and its industry's lack of regulation to provoke sheltered boomers and Xers, but provide no further context to the movie's accurate postulation that the normalization of pornography proceeds from an urban cultural degeneracy, a condition to which this production owes its trashy trappings. Neither does it comparatively explore the myriad of lucrative online options for attractive young women of limited means and intelligence, only a few of which are scarcely mentioned. They have obliged budding hustlers if the filmmakers have deterred but a few hundred from participation in this especially sleazy, abusive, potentially injurious form of porn, as by their even-handed depiction of Silguero's ordinarily short career, resultant maladies and retirement at the advice of her mother and spinelessly dithering boyfriend (Plemons). Akin to this flick's other aforelisted, preposterously profuse productional parasites, that overt dearth of talent that Bauer, Gradus and especially Jones have evidenced in their piffling corporate careers has always been supplemented by their galling congenital privilege, which they agonize to arrogate to a patriarchy that hasn't existed for decades. As heritors of nepotism and commissaries of a contemporary feminism that's far more disposed to gainfully exploit the unfortunate indiscretion of poor and middle-class women and skew its consequences as "oppression" rather than empower them by promoting an embarrassment of available alternatives, they prove themselves specimens of their ignoble, incompetent, pietistical class. So few in their stratum care to grasp that the little people who whore themselves do so volitionally.
Instead, watch Escorts or Rocco.

Indiscretion (2016)
Directed by John Stewart Muller
Written by Laura Boersma, John Stewart Muller
Produced by Laura Boersma, John Stewart Muller, Timothy Rhys, Thomas Beach, Gabe Lang, Alexandra Bentley, J.C. Cantu, Joseph Suarez, Dylan Matlock, Frederick Schroeder, Aric Avelino, Randy Newman, Keylee Sanders, Therese Beach, George Kevin Chapin, Karen Clark, Barbara Gallagher, Ron Gallagher, William Kyte, Jerry Lang, Joni Lang, Kevin Lynch, Kathleen S. Muller, Aaron Peterson, Susie Peterson
Starring Mira Sorvino, Christopher Backus, Cary Elwes, Katherine McNamara, LisaGay Hamilton, Shane Callahan, Melora Walters
For pleasure and political profit, a psychiatrist (Sorvino) unsatisfactorily wed to a maritally derelict, reputedly unfaithful New Orleanian councilman (Elwes) assesses, seduces, then manipulates an obsessively unstable sculptural bricoleur, whose ascendant repute exceeds his talent, to murder her husband so that she can undertake for his flagging senatorial campaign by exploiting popular sympathy to endorse a ticket of disarmament. That stratagem's exposited by her dupe at the denouement of this garishly lit, positively prognosticable crime drama evidently occurring in Lifetime's and Netflix's parallel universe, where detectives don't exist. Your complimentary spoiler isn't half so much an affront as the conjoint investment by extravigesimal, moneyed barnacles to produce this dreck, which portrays as predictably as its plot marriage as a cell to be escaped, for the gratification of embittered housewives and monition of young, germinal careerists -- an intimation that's familiarly pernicious in mundane, contemporary agitprop. Like everyone else here, Sorvino and Backus (whose career's initiation concurs with that of their marriage) are clearly grinding through the motions, generating exiguous eroticism during their characters' fling, and even less interest while he's loudly stalking her or romancing her gorgeous, gormless daughter (McNamara). As poorly plotted as thrillers come, it only deviates from convention at its unbelievable conclusion; as seedy bait for vicarious and disgruntled devil's advocates, it's as putrid as any of the effluent issued by Blumhouse.
Instead, watch Diabolique, Fatal Attraction or Obsessed.

Je t'aime moi non plus (1976)
Written and directed by Serge Gainsbourg
Produced by Jacques-Eric Strauss, Claude Berri
Starring Joe Dallesandro, Jane Birkin, Hugues Quester, Nana Gainsbourg, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Gerard Depardieu
Ever the trailblazer, Gainsbourg baked cinema's first great queer turkey years before that particular platter was served annually as Oscar bait. In a rural pseudo-America, the relationship of two strapping, gay garbagemen is disrupted when that twosome's hunkier homo (Dallesandro) falls for a boyish gamine (Birkin) employed as the barmaid of a remote roadside cafe, to the chagrin and eventual, violent ire of his embattled boyfriend (Quester). Lest he deviate from wont, their transitory romance is consummated with shrieking sodomy, for which they're ejected from several hotels. Trite (if not tame) by contemporary standards, Gainsbourg's foul fiasco hasn't much to recommend it save the considerable, concerted screen presence of its attractive stars. Alas, Quester is the only one among them who can actually act; the camera loves them both, but Little Joe is almost as stiffly unfit when dubbed as usual, and hasn't any chemistry with the director's scrawnily curveless mistress. Their adorable bull terrier Nana steals her every scene, mayhap because she's spared any lines. As in all his pictures, some tackily gimmicky shots are sprinkled throughout elsewise technically sound direction, and ham-fisted symbolism abounds in most scenes, uttered often as daft dialogue verifying that Serge's verbal verve was strictly lyric. Just as wearisome are his patently sham American trappings: a Mack truck, hamburgers, bluejeans and a rock band that performs during and after a horrific competition of dumpy ecdysiasts. Depardieu's briefly squandered in the role of an addled equestrian, as is perennial nebbish Michel Blanc. Nearly a decade after its controversial release, voxless variants of Gainsbourg's classic, celebrated, titular, trademark signature single serenade the leads as they kiss ineptly. Lingering shots of a dumpsite and a climax wherein Birkin and Dallesandro generate minimal erotic heat via anal intercourse in the bed of his garbage truck remind us what this movie is, and where it belongs.
Instead, watch Going Places.

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.

Liquid Sky (1982)
Directed by Slava Tsukerman
Written by Slava Tsukerman, Nina V. Kerova, Anne Carlisle
Produced by Slava Tsukerman, Nina V. Kerova, Robert Field
Starring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady, Elaine C. Grove, Stanley Knapp, Jack Adalist, Lloyd Ziff, Roy MacArthur, Sara Carlisle
Squalid tommyrot ensues after a little flying saucer lights upon the roof of a tiny penthouse occupied by a fashion model (Carlisle) and a performance artist (Sheppard), and proceeds to terminate numerous sleazeballs therein by harvesting their endorphins during orgasms or narcotic highs. Tsukerman's script, direction, production and editing are aggravatingly amateurish, but the Soviet expatriate's slipshod execution slipped the attention of gaumless hipsters, junkies and critics whose patronage made this stupid, slapdash sci-fi the most successful independent feature of 1983. Lenna Rashkovsky-Kaleva's, Marcel Fiévé's and Chris Evans's imaginative makeup, flashy costumes fashioned by Marina Levikova, Yuri Neyman's and Oleg Chichilnitsky's briefly intriguing special effects and a few amusing moments can't at all compensate for how poorly this picture was shot, cut, scored and performed. Carlisle woodenly created dual male and female roles as though to stress her absence of charisma as either, but she isn't a tenth as nettlesome as Sheppard, who plays her pretentiously pettish poet with the condescending comportment of a villainess from a children's cartoon. Despite their heroin chic, Tsukerman's one-dimensional characters -- inspired by his superficial conception of NYC's new wave -- are as crudely unsophisticated as his style. His movie's consequently edgy in the tiresome manner of huffy teenagers transported in their mom's minivan to a performance by Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM or Type O Negative, circa 1996. Fatuous whenever it's supposed to be clever, this is unique in the worst way, for the ingenuity of so many unappealingly bad ideas. Eschew it for the sake of precious time and forbearance.
Instead, watch I Come in Peace.

Listening (2014)
Directed and written by Khalil Sullins
Produced by Jamal DeGruy, Travis Nicholson, Khalil Sullins, Pardis Sullins
Starring Thomas Stroppel, Artie Ahr, Amber Marie Bollinger, Christine Haeberman, Steve Hanks, Arn Chorn-Pond, Pamela Cedar
A compelling concept and some deep, decent concerns regarding the societal dangers of abused technologies are buried under a crushing cumulation of clichés, inanities and melodrama in Sullins's first (and mercifully only) feature. Two reputedly brilliant educands (Stroppel, Ahr) enrolled at Caltech develop an apparatus that digitally transcribes thought; in collaboration with another decidedly dubious student (Bollinger, who resembles a tentatively reformed stripper), their invention is upgraded to enable wired telepathy. Disaster arises from a series of timeworn tragedies, inexplicable personal and ethical idiocies, and infringement by a covert division of the CIA, which impresses both undergraduates and expropriates their technology to further a program of mass cerebral control. "Primer for morons" was a phrase popularly applied online to this daffily disappointing science fiction upon its initial release, and more than a few elements seem lifted from Shane Carruth's microbudgeted masterwork: two geeky protagonists, one of whom is miserably married; betrayal inspired by desperation; blued and yellowed footage. Comparisons are otherwise invalidated by stale, stupid theatrics, bountifully discomfiting dialog, frequently overcut sequences, and Edward White's conventionally overwrought and relentless score, all typical of Hollywood's hokum. Sullins frames his shots well, but he's a schlocky storyteller. Every other turn of his plot is either a gaping hole or simple improbability, and its climax and conclusion alike are palpably predictable. His actors aren't guided any more capably than his script's written, wavering as often as not between ham and lumber. Worst, adolescent sexual sensibilities are incarnated in Ahr's obnoxious character and ridiculous exhibitions of Bollinger's figure, such as a close-up of her cleavage during a pivotal moment. Scenes set and shot at a Buddhist temple in Cambodia are as mustily conceived as anything else here, but almost refreshing in contrast to the stifling ugliness of the movie's interiors, as well as urinary tints that ruin otherwise adequate photography. What a wonder of irony is a decerebrate thriller concerned with cerebration.
Instead, watch Scanners or Brainstorm.

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by Clive Barker, Jeff Buhler
Produced by Clive Barker, Gary Lucchesi, Eric Reid, Tom Rosenberg, Jorge Saralegui, Richard Wright, Beth DePatie, James McQuaide, Peter Block, Jason Constantine, Joe Daley, Anthony DiBlasi, Robert McMinn, John Penotti, David Scott Rubin, Fisher Stevens
Starring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones, Roger Bart, Brooke Shields, Barbara Eve Harris, Tony Curran
His movies have only ever been tolerable -- and occasionally enjoyable -- for their expert choreography, involving production design and photogenic performers; with only the last of those three elements present in this dreary, typically overproduced American foray, the limits of Kitamura's directorial deftness are particularly prominent. To satisfy the demands of an influential gallerist (Shields) and his ambition to capture treacherously intriguing imagery, a photographer (Cooper) stalks, then investigates a spruce, burly butcher (Jones) who extends his labor into an avocational late shift by hammering, hooking and exsanguinating passengers of a subway's nightly route. Very few of Barker's stories have been competently dramatized, and the antic appeal of Kitamura's cartoonishly artificial CG and gimmicky, slow-mo or whirling panoramic and perspective shots mesh poorly with Buhler's tiresomely prosy, humorless screenplay. Digitally rendered trains, bullets, blood, limbs amputated, organs eviscerated and enucleated appear doubly fake in contrast to several impressively realistic practical effects. In observance of two cinematographic trends, Jonathan Sela's photography is nicely shot in very high contrast, but many scenes are ruined by their excessively applied tints. Cooper and most of his co-stars have screen presence to spare, but they're unmemorable for dialogue so musty that it sounds like mad libs. Shields makes the best of her role as an imperious socialite, and thewy footballer Jones is certainly imposing as the industrious serial killer, but neither are framed effectively. Now lagging well behind Larry Fessenden in their unwitting(?) undertaking to match John Hurt's mortal onscreen record, Ted Raimi again plays one of several brutalized victims. This is somewhat engaging until its insufferably inane third act, which leads to a predictably cyclic conclusion from which the Lovecraftish abominolatry of Barker's short story was expunged in favor of still more gore that'll only satisfy the most undemanding splatterhounds.
Instead, watch The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or Train to Busan.

Misunderstood (2014)
Directed by Asia Argento
Written by Asia Argento, Barbara Alberti
Produced by Mario Gianani, Eric Heumann, Maurice Kantor, Lorenzo Mieli, Scott Derrickson, Guido De Laurentiis
Starring Giulia Salerno, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gabriel Garko, Alice Pea, Carolina Poccioni, Anna Lou Castoldi, Justin Pearson, Andrea Pittorino, Sofia Patron, Riccardo Russo, Gianmarco Tognazzi, Max Gazzè
Of all the celebrities who annunciated #MeToo, Argento was among the most suspect; who sustains a sexual assault, then repeatedly returns to her lumpily misshapen rapist for a lustrum to improve her professional prospects? Evidently, one who lies as reflexively as ineffectively. This second pseudo-autobiographical flick by Italy's most catastrophic fortunate daughter is less trashy but just as untruthful as her preceding features. In the putative mid-'80s, a prepubescent Roman (Salerno) suffers her classmates' scorn and neglect of her squabbling parents -- a neurotically liverish leading man (Garko) and an abusive concert pianist (Gainsbourg) fond of countercultural affectations and scummy boyfriends (Gazzè, Tognazzi, Pearson) -- who both favor her senior half-sisters (Poccioni, Castoldi). As their divorce looms, the maladroit miss consorts with degenerates, plays pranks with her best friend (Pea), crushes on a prickish skateboarder (Pittorino) topped by an anachronistically stupid haircut, and does nothing to remediate her situation until a few relatively marginal embarrassments spur her first suicide attempt. Argento and Alberti can't tell a story, so they've taken wild liberties while unregenerately stringing together a series of incidents that dramatize Argento's childhood, and gawkily express the frivolous frolic, daft drama, dinky destruction, and piddling contretemps in which she pretends to languish but actually delights. Her cast do justice to their rankling roles; as grotesque caricatures of Daria Nicolodi and Dario Argento, Gainsbourg's and Garko's truculent spunk actualizes the fever dream heretofore confined to their daughter's addled skull. Nicoletta Ercole's clownishly loud costume design is every millennial's misapprehension of day-glo garb in the '80s; only a few cars and consumer electronics even hint at the period. Even worse, atrocious music by Argento, Pearson and collaborators, Brian Molko, The Penelopes and others maculates the soundtrack, excepting Rachmaninov's sonata in B flat minor and Mozart's requiem in D minor -- selections as clichéd as the protagonist's escapades. Many (if not most) Xers born to well-off families were no strangers to the parental overindulgence, negligence and occasional abuse that molded our generation's complexion, but only from Asia's self-absorption did these 100+ minutes of total tedium arise. Forget how her relationships (public and otherwise) have been foredone by her promiscuity, she's publicized herself by flooding media with tirades bemoaning her dysfunction for decades, she traduced the woman whose direction realized the best role of her career, or that any objective account of her mythomania is to her a violation of "her truth," and pity the poor, punic, pampered, privileged prostitute! She does.

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.

A Reason to Believe (1995)
Directed and written by Douglas Tirola
Produced by Ged Dickersin, Douglas Tirola, Christopher Trela
Starring Allison Smith, Danny Quinn, Jay Underwood, Kim Walker, Georgia Emelin, Keith Coogan, Christopher Birt, Lisa Lawrence, Obba Babatundé, Holly Marie Combs, Mark Metcalf, Robin Riker, Afton Smith, Joe Flanigan, David Overlund, Jimmy Kieffer, Mary Thomas, Michelle Stratton, Rachel Parker, Sally Kenyon, Andy Holcomb, Cary Spadafora
Generous hallmarks epitomizing shitty social dramas of American cinema in the '90s are encompassed in this especially leaden waste of time: hideously drab raiment, furnishings and photography; a dire dearth of congenial characters; semi-coherent dialogue; maddening incommunication; a majority of (largely superfluous) scenes that tread water at a glacial pace; conflict between two unsavory factions morally distinguished only by the upright position of one assumed on repugnantly ideological grounds. Shortly after a university's fraternity of sexist creeps clashes publicly with its equally distasteful feminist cadre, an imprudent student (Smith) in drunken, scantily togged attendance at a party held by the former is raped by a frat boy (Underwood). Initially, she hasn't the backbone to confess this misfortune to her craven boyfriend (Quinn), nor has he to confront her assailant, even when he merely presupposes her infidelity. Humdrum hearsay and hassles drag tediously to the rapist's expulsion from both his fraternity and college, and a presumed investigation by local police, after the ornery, opportunistic president of the school's women's students group (Emelin) obligates his victim to criminate him. As a feminist, Tirola was one of a few who pioneered America's mainstream cinematic transition from feminism's frequently illogical, yet often justifiable second wave to its psychotic third; as a filmmaker, he's as lazily unimaginative and inexpert as any hack who's exploited a controversial issue. Most of the picture consists of prosaic pans and fecklessly framed wide shots cut badly in alternation with close-ups, and well over half of the scenes in its half-hour of story stretched beyond 100 minutes are filler, such as classes wherein an overbearing professor (Babatundé) demands that his students parrot propagandistic platitudes in an unintended mockery of Socratic method. Performances are for the most part adequate, but Emelin noticeably struggles to remember her largely ludicrous lines, peppered with flagrantly false statistics and politicized prattle. Metcalf and Coogan are amusingly cast against and to types as the university's dean and a stoner, the movie's only likable people. In contrast, Emelin's barracuda is somehow slightly more repellent than Underwood's petulant rapist (essentially still Bug from Uncle Buck); that she expresses momentary glee upon apprisal of his felony for the advantage it affords in a neutral context suggests that Tirola's just as sleazy as his deuteragonist. One of the film's few praiseworthy points is its accurate depiction of casual rape, and it might've been partly redeemed had it explicitly cautioned young women about the dangers of unaccompanied carousal in certain venues, or advised them how to immediately report incidents of sexual assault to ease enquiries and arraignments, but Tirola shirks the social responsibility that his harridans demand from the opposite sex. Instead, this abominable agitprop promotes nothing save credulity to every allegation and the unattainable lunacy of social justice -- always a disservice to anyone assaulted or wrongly accused.

Tip Top (2013)
Directed by Serge Bozon
Written by James Tucker, Axelle Ropert, Serge Bozon, Odile Barski
Produced by Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira, Philippe Martin, Nicolas Steil. David Thion
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Kiberlain, Francois Damiens, Karole Rocher, Saïda Bekkouche, Allain Naron, Aymen Saïdi, Elie Lison, Francois Négret, Samy Naceri, Youssef Tiberkanine, Brahim Waabach, Patrick Pais, Jean-Marc Hermance

The only truthful answer to these and all other queries pertaining to Bozon's wantonly unfunny, unsexy, uninteresting, garrulous, cutesy crime comedy is: French cinema is now nearly as dumb, ugly, and self-congratulatory as Hollywood, and witless actors of the Fifth Republic occasionally make valueless movies, too.

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