Angel Dust (1994)
Directed by Sogo Ishii
Written by Yorozu Ikuta, Sogo Ishii
Produced by Kenzo Horikoshi, Eiji Izumi, Taro Maki
Starring Kaho Minami, Takeshi Wakamatsu, Etsushi Toyokawa, Masayuki Shionoya, Ryoko Takizawa
Ishii's repair to feature filmmaking following one of his distinctive hiatus was one of but a few fantastic flicks that initiated a renaissance of Japanese horrors and thrillers. Perplexed by a series of weekly murders befalling demoiselles poisoned with a common gardening toxin, Tokyo police recruit an accomplished criminal psychologist (Minami) to sift for clues in the apparent absence of these victims' commonality or association. Her chief suspect (Wakamatsu, never creepier) is also her whilom lover and mentor, a radical anathema in the psychological profession who supervises a clinic wherein members of a buoyant and benignant cult are forcibly deprogrammed -- from which the first victim was once a devotee, then his patient. It may be Ishii's chef-d'oeuvre: thematic profundity inheres of every arresting shot, in which the master stylist's exact and inventive composition accommodates gorgeous photography, an argosy of eye-popping devices and manifold haunting chills, cut with punctilious vacillation from deliberate to breakneck successions. Moreover, the trajectory of this plot is so awry to confound most prediction and any expectation, a refreshing mode for a morbid topic ordinarily depicted in trite and adolescent fashion. This picture's entire cast yields fine performances, but the pernicious discomfiture that swells within and ultimately shatters the stolid guise of Minami's literate, percipient eideteker is enacted with emotive yet nuanced expression, distinguishing her from the mass of her facile, photogenic peers. Ishii's achievement pioneered a route further plied by his brilliant coevals (Kurosawa, Miike, et al.), but few analogous films have yet succeeded it, and Dust remains innovatory twenty years posterior to production -- a condition that betokens the regression of genre filmmaking as much as his virtuosity.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Cure.
Le choc (1982)
Directed by Robin Davis, Alain Delon
Written by Jean-Patrick Manchette, Dominique Robelet, Claude Veillot, Robin Davis, Alain Delon
Produced by Alain Sarde, Alain Terzian
Starring Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Etienne Chicot, François Perrot, Catherine Leprince, Philippe Léotard
Weary of his sanguinary craft, an urbane, veteran assassin (Delon) purposes to exit his lucrative billet in pursuit of legitimate forays to the reprehension of his employers, who apparently resort to extremes to recover his services. Few leading men were so apposite as Delon for the impassive suavity of his role, which he justifies with an understated, polished portrayal that indues credibility to his protagonist's Bondian savoir faire; as the fetching spouse of a loutish turkey breeder (Léotard), Deneuve radiates vulnerable sensuality as his predictable love interest, and Chicot is again and condignly typecast as a dour reprobate. In concert with genre journeyman Davis, Delon enhanced the pedestrian premise of an obscure novel with an investment of slick action sequences, novel interiors, wry raillery and its gorgeous, middle-aged leads' potent, prurient chemistry, elevating what might have been a routine suspense feature into a superbly engaging outing. For viewers weary of farcically hyperbolic action pictures, this may suffice as a refreshing alternative to silly drivel concocted by the likes of Besson or West.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Le professionnel.
Dirty Pair: Project Eden (1987)
Directed by Koichi Mashimo
Written by Haruka Takachiho, Hiroyuki Hoshiyama
Produced by Shigehiro Nakagawa, Masanori Ito, Hironori Nakagawa, Yoshihide Kondo
Starring Kyoko Tongu, Saeko Shimazu, Katsuji Mori, Chikao Otsuka, Toku Nishio
Disaster ensuing disorder attends every assignment of Haruka Takachiho's feisty dyad, and in this sole theatrical feature succeeding the delirious televised adaptation of his novelistic series, their calamitous concomitance is accordingly magnified as a spectacle of detonation, mutation and oenophilia. Dispatched to investigate acts of sabotage that threaten the uneasy peace between two rival governments exploiting a planet's invaluable and plethoric resources, Kei and Yuri encounter a dashing thief in pursuit of a potable antique, an unhinged, geriatric geneticist determined to advance the evolution of a rocky, dormant species and his natty henchman. Not a costive moment stays the celerity of this riotous, ridiculous adventure vibrantly rendered with florid detail and scintillating effects, wherein the Lovely Angels hazard hitherto unfamiliar dangers...none of which represent thematic or tonal freshness! A few amative interludes hardly spoil this mission's blistering pace by intimating some rare emotional depth. Not a tittle of it amounts to anything and the Pair are typically no more responsible in action than culpability, but the denouements of their escapades are ordinarily peripheral to their significance, and neither the toothsome twosome nor their exploits were ever so gorgeously animated before or since.
F for Fake (1973)
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
Produced by François Reichenbach, Dominique Antoine, Richard Drewitt
Starring Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, François Reichenbach, Laurence Harvey
This tribute to frauds and chicanery by American cinema's rotund doyen disbosomed his enduring innovation with idiomatic economy by expanding the breadth of documentary form and style. Welles profiles a trio of impostors: embattled, consummate art forger Elmyr de Hory, his biographer Clifford Irving (himself notorious for inditing the sham Howard Hughes autobiography) and himself, the guileful stage magician who'd famously illuded a credulous interwar radio audience to the conviction that Martians had invaded New Jersey. With a profusion of often specious interviews and anecdotes, facetious speculation, convivial discourse, edited artifice and the allure of his leggy trophy wife Oja Kodar, Welles plumbs the mythoi of his subjects with relative indifference to veracity, knowingly betraying the fine (if extant) line delineating art and entertainment from skulduggery. Natheless, his excursive narrative is neither nugatory nor exclusively preoccupied with matters duplicitous: from one brilliantly cut sequence in which Hory and Irving (shot individually) appear tensely discordant as the former struggles to extenuate, Welles deftly segues to a profound meditation on the universal transience of life and attainment alike. Few filmmakers have showcased themselves with such indulgence or substance, surpassing most of his contemporaries and rivalling the visionary New Hollywood successors who esteemed him in veneration. Never mind what's authentic or counterfeit herein; for every ball in each of the obese master's dexterous hands, he's three lofted, and the assiduous craft evident in his intriguing disquisition, painstaking conjoint editing and prestidigitation verify the playful prowess of an interdisciplinary veteran prone to draw the curtain back, as likely as not to disclose what may be another illusion.
Recommended for a double feature paired with A Man Vanishes.
The Flower of My Secret (1995)
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Written by Dorothy Parker, Pedro Almodóvar
Produced by Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García
Starring Marisa Paredes, Juan Echanove, Carme Elias, Chus Lampreave, Rossy de Palma, Manuela Vargas, Imanol Arias, Joaquín Cortés, Kiti Mánver
One can always expect eclat from an ensemble at Almodovar's command, and his histrions hardly disappoint in the umbra of Paredes' powerful performance as a genre novelist deluged by passions: torrid longing for her absent husband (Arias), a NATO lieutenant-colonel dispatched to belligerent Bosnia, concern for her spry and morbidly voluble mother (Lampreave), and diversion from the authorship of popular lightweight fare for which she's grown weary by a furor scribendi freshly inspired by chastened rancor. Cinematic melodrama has seldom if ever felt so plausible as when wrought by one of the medium's few remaining great storytellers, whose diegesis subtly predicates willing purblindness as a result of anonymity and rigidity. Secrets regarding authenticity, identity and infidelity are implied with gestures and aspects shortly preceding their revelations, but these are mere MacGuffins designed to conduce far more substantial realizations of love incipient and unrequited. Paredes' middle-aged resemblance to Lauren Bacall is terribly felicitous to their affinities of charisma and nice delivery; she emotes a sweep of elation, resentment, reflection, heartbreak without overplaying a frame. Brazilian DP Affonso Beato lenses Almodovar's characteristically gorgeous visuals with pizzazz, despite relatively muted hues (in contrast to his collaborations with José Luis Alcaine) to suit his story's diminished levity, most of which resides in the squabbles of the author's mother and nettled sister (the invariably divine de Palma). Pedro's devotees will immediately recognize the sordid premise of a purloined manuscript and a provincial Almagran locality, both of which were reused in one of his best ulterior movies.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Volver.
Directed by Tom Stern, Alex Winter
Written by Tom Stern, Alex Winter, Tim Burns
Produced by Stephen Chiodo, Harry J. Ufland, Mary Jane Ufland, Alex Winter
Starring Alex Winter, Michael Stoyanov, Megan Ward, Randy Quaid, Keanu Reeves, Brooke Shields
Massive, murderous Rastafarian eyeballs, a vermicious zoologist, transgendered Mr. T and a grisly menagerie of faunal hybrids are among the multifarious choleric, conflated, fanged, feral, foul, gawky, ghoulish, gratuitous, grungy, malign, meshuga, mutinous, nauseant, obstreperous, outrageous, perverse, precipitous, pugnacious, savage, shameless chimeras who run amok in this theatrical follow-up to Winter's and Stern's goofy televised sketch series, The Idiot Box. A contumelious, acquisitive actor (Winter) and his obnoxious buddy (Stoyanov) are whisked to a fictional Latin American nation by an unscrupulous multinational to endorse an inexplicably ruinous toxic fertilizer they've disseminated for a $5M paycheck. After befriending a pretty yet peevish environmental activist (Ward) under starkly false pretenses, both the reprobate duo and their censorious acquaintance are seized by a redneck mad scientist and theme park proprietor (Quaid) who bestows the aforementioned goop to metamorphose his many captives into themed monstrosities. Stern and Winter sustain the brisk pace of this unabashedly antic farce with an abundance of sight gags, hammy acting, recurrent tumult and nauseating special effects. Alas, Peter Chernin spoiled this picture's potential success by slashing its post-production budget and limiting its distribution to a paltry pair of theaters in the worst executive sabotage of a substantial project since Dawn Steel undermined Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but even the debased theatrical cut reflects more inspiration (in the style of Mad magazine) than a score of contemporary comedies. It's as ludicrous as humor comes, but if you care to gauge your maturity, just try to suppress your giggles through its duration.
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Robert Altman, Susannah York
Produced by Tommy Thompson, Al Locatelli
Starring Susannah York, Marcel Bozzuffi, Rene Auberjonois, Cathryn Harrison, Hugh Millais
Schizoid episodes to which a children's authoress (York) succumbs over the span of a holiday weekend vividly manifest her indignation, execration and sundered psychological dualism when progressively salacious and inimical interactions with an insufferable male trio comprising her smug, deceased lover (Bozzuffi), heedless husband (Auberjonois) and his lascivious, boorishly embittered friend (Millais) furnish insight to her frustrations and desiderata...but those veritable among them may not evince her genuine quiddity as do the fidelity of others illusory. Eschewing flashy effects for tart and urgent personations by his gifted cast and narrative legerdemain effected with adroit editing, Altman ingeniously surveys the topography of his protagonist's immediate environs and pathology alike, exploiting the gorgeous vales, peaks, cascades and capes of Powerscourt Estate in Leinster, Ireland for a setting as alluring yet implicitly forbidding as its subject. Suspense by peradventure concerning transgressions real or delusory is elegantly sustained by a script that nimbly balances thrill and drama whilst showcasing histrionic flair to illustrate scenarios in which a woman burdened by acuity struggles to tolerate and contend with the superficiality of her relations. John Williams' memorably minacious motifs performed on strings and piano are frequently punctuated by Tsutomu Yamashita's cacophonous percussion in a fresh collaborative score that emphasizes without ever diverting from the picture's proceedings. York narrates key scenes with excerpts from her debut juvenile fantasy novel In Search of Unicorns that beseem her character's deranged transports.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Let's Scare Jessica to Death.
The Last Mistress (2007)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Fu'ad Aït Aattou, Asia Argento, Claude Sarraute, Roxane Mesquida, Yolande Moreau, Michael Lonsdale
A decade of shared lubricity, adoration, hardship and heartbreak bind the fates and souls of a sullenly sensual Spanish peeress (Argento) and her roué (Aattou) of passion matched who first spurns, then aggressively courts her before braving death by duel with her elderly English husband to win her hand and heart. Rived by tragedy and accompanying acrimony, their ardency seems stinted well ere his betrothal to a pristine, virtuous yet insipid noblewoman (Mesquida) with whom his devotion is reciprocal, but this renewal may not long survive a quiescent warmth for or the resolution of the foxy virago he thought he'd forsaken. Rococo costumery, hairstyling and Parisian venues of Breillat's greatest critical and commercial success prove vivid 19th-century accoutrements to complement emotive niceties and incandescence educed from familiar players. As often before and since, she inspires treasures in redoubtable veterans and relative neophytes (as Mesquida, her most frequent favored actress) alike, but under her command, Argento's coruscation as the fast and fickle noblewoman nearly eclipses her co-stars, consummating what may prove the role of her career -- a fantastic feat that she'd never achieve under her father's baton. One of d'Aurevilly's most cunning ironies resides in the observations of an aged countess (Moreau) and her blasé husband (Lonsdale) who've acquaintance with all concerned, and whose tendencious adjudgements are more objective than any others pondered herein. Less ironic is Breillat's sympathy for d'Aurevilly's novel; echoing the precedent Prévost, his fascination with the full purview of a patrician woman's pull and power in a predominately masculine society to verify the fugacity of fidelity and love's endurance was undoubtedly irresistible to the finest living (if yet unacknowledged) feminist filmmaker.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Barry Lyndon.
Mauvais Sang (1986)
Directed and written by Leos Carax
Produced by Denis Chateau, Philippe Diaz, Alain Dahan
Starring Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli, Hans Meyer, Julie Delpy, Carroll Brooks
Verbally and visually, Carax's sophomore feature film is among the most beautiful yet produced, a tragic masterwork comprehending the auteur's conceptions of impassioned folly personified by a brilliant cast and exquisite composition conveyed via Jean-Yves Escoffier's photography of supreme resolution and bursting chromatic vibrancy. Exorbitantly indebted to a crime boss (Brooks), a career criminal reduced to recreance (Piccoli) and a natty former physician (Meyer) contrive to filch from the French branch of an American pharmaceutical multinational their culture of a lethal virus afflicting loveless coital partners with debilitating symptoms akin to those of AIDS, so to sell it to a rival firm. To circumvent the target corporation's security measures, they enlist the abetment of a late accomplice's son (Lavant), an alacritously adroit conman who exploits this engagement to desert his devoted dulcinea (Delpy), only to stumble into true love with his lesser employer's lovely, kindly girlfriend (Binoche, as much a jewel of fragile pulchritude in her youth as she's remained in middle age). This premise constitutes the plot's nigh-entirety, but that vaccinal culture's a mere MacGuffin of thematic accordance impelling characters yet never diverting Carax's audience from so many crucial cesuras of ardent silence portending grief, disconcertion and adoration too infrequently depicted in cinema. Lavant's withy, vital yet crude physicality artfully belies his recidivist's romantic heart, betrayed by stirring soliloquies and the music of Prokofiev, Britten, Bowie and Chaplin to signify inexpressibly perfervid amatory swells. Not a frame of this picture isn't gorgeously shot to beautify its localities and plurality of slickly executed devices: staggering smash cuts, decelerated and accelerated shots, momentary morsels of reverse footage, focal variance, an aerial stunt as flurrying as any from a Bond flick, and striking close-ups of shoelaces, tissues, telephones, elevator numerals, nimbly shuffled playing cards and every expressive physiognomy of its photogenic players. Curiously, many of of Carax's early exponents derided and dismissed this love letter to the evanescent New Wave as a glossy pastiche of those most experimental styles prosecuted by its ornaments during that summit, disregarding that Godard's contemporaneous output hadn't a smidgen of the ambition evinced here. Nathless, Carax tantalizes eyes and emotions only to emphasize the fruitless fervor of unrequited love, caprices of which illustrate how those most indomitable obstacles crumble before obstinacy, terror neutralizes affection, inhibition relents before infatuation, and all probity is voided by these passions.
Opening Night (1977)
Directed and written by John Cassavetes
Produced by Sam Shaw, Al Ruban, Michael Lally
Starring Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, John Cassavetes, Paul Stewart, Laura Johnson, Zohra Lampert
The sudden death of an especially frantic fan (Johnson) following a theatrical performance is the catalyst that triggers its famous, jaded leading lady's (Rowlands) inevitable midlife crisis, prompting increasingly aberrant dysfunction, oppugnance to her role of a woman suffering the wane of her allure and all its associated power, and delusive encounters with the deceased as a reflection of her teenage self: initially affectionate visitations that lapse by realization to violent confrontations. Even as the volatile actress struggles by rationalization to deny all affinity to her wholly apposite persona during a succession of ebullitions and collapses, she's perforce the precessing lynchpin around which everyone in her compass revolves: the veteran playwright (Blondell) torn between fascination and frustration in observance of this tempest and equanimous producer (Stewart) who patiently weathers it, a former lover and co-star (Cassavetes) wisely distanced to sustain their professional relationship, her rock of a director (Gazzara) scarcely at amorous arm's length from the star he adores, and his quietly long-suffering wife (Lampert), whose envy of her is tempered by respect. Cassavetes' sixth collaboration with his spouse and most disastrous flop is one of his very finest films, shot in Pasadena with moderate experiment to maximize its evocation of shock, intimacy and the disquiet thrill of dramaturgy. By relegating himself to an imperative yet fittingly unflattering character, the independent icon situated himself optimally to work his experient cast to their utmost, substantiating both his trademark verisimilitude -- essentially a motional still-life in close-up -- and the veneer of staged artifice as parts parallel personalities. More indisposed than incapable of tackling her role's rigors, the frailties of Rowlands' lead dissolve the fourth wall to her attendees' mixed disdain and ovation -- indulgences culminating at the contemporaneity of her drunken prostration and the play's premiere in New York as an extemporary episode of unexpectedly triumphal compliance to her production's burden and audience's appetites. Regrettably, this feature's transient, overlooked theatrical runs in L.A. and NYC didn't mirror the eclat of its conclusion.
Orchestra Rehearsal (1978)
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Brunello Rondi
Produced by Michael Fengler, Renzo Rossellini
Starring Balduin Baas, Umberto Zuanelli, Sibyl Mostert, Ferdinando Villella, Elizabeth Labi, Andy Miller, Clara Colosimo, Claudio Ciocca, Luigi Uzzo, David Maunsell, Franco Javarone, Cesare Martignon, Franco Mazzieri, Daniele Pagani, Angelica Hansen, Paolo Fiorino, Adelaide Aste, Ronaldo Bonacchi, Franco Iavarone, Francesco Aluigi, Heinz Kreuger
He was always fond of sampling sociopolitical phenomena through a microcosmic lens, and never more so than in Fellini's facetia of an orchestra's eventual insurrection against its carping, autocratic conductor (Baas). Though a rehearsal hall's vitreous fourth wall, the ensemble's spry amanuensis and factotum (Zuanelli) at the threshold of his retirement is first to bespeak the audience with a history of the hall now deconsecrated from its former glory as a church and auditorium, before the musicians follow suit ere their rehearsal and during a breather following one of their musical director's diatribes. In gregarity, societal variety's personified and contrasted, and idiosyncrasies evinced in interviews with an unseen television crew: a burly yet gentle bass tubist (Javarone) depicts the selection of his instrument as a commitment predicated as much on ruth as affinity; talkative percussionists avouch their exceptional frolic; neuroses and transports are ascribed alike by trumpeters (Mazzieri, et al.) to their artistic discharge; the flute is conferred by its lanky blower (Mostert) of gawky and exuberant charm a singular mysticism; wistful yet waggish trombonists (Pagani, Fiorino) introspect; a cheery, fetching pianist (Labi) declares sociality her sine qua non of performance; solitary spirituality, authority and antiquity are accredited to the oboe by its practitioner (Miller); lonely and chubby, a harp's plucker (Colosimo) clings to her subsistence; one conceited cellist (Villella) professes the primacy of his instrument and the violin (which he subsequently derides); a clarinetist's (Martignon) anecdote elucidates the clarity of the woodwind; their union delegate (Ciocca) commends labor reforms that heightened the professional musician's dignity and salary; the Teutonic maestro in his suite bemoans a disenchantment with his symphonic society's impudence and indiscipline, reminiscing of the felicity affected by his mentor's mastery, and the age of his early appointments, when he commanded subordination of a finical standard. Throughout, recurrent tremors forebode a tumult to which the unruffled musical director repairs: a protest in which mutinous instrumentalists degenerated into a doggery vandalize the hall with graffiti and rhythmic cacophony first divides the orchestra into their conductor's silent supporters and chanting dissidents; the schismatic broken consort's rebels again predictably split into proponents of absolute meter purposing to supplant the maestro with a massive metronome, countered by wilder apostles of individualistic naturalism. Armageddon's by demolition typed at this riot's climax before order's restored for the sake of survival, affirming the harmonious necessity of tradition, unity and authority. Less dynamic than his masterpieces, Fellini's brief feature's composed primarily of expositive static shots and elegant pans in swift time with Nino Rota's lilting passages or slow scans of speculative significance. It's nearly more abrupt than its substance can afford, but Rehearsal's scale and parabolic profundity exceeds the usual proportion of a duration shy of 70 minutes.
Le Sauvage (1975)
Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Written by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Élisabeth Rappeneau, Jean-Loup Dabadie
Produced by Ralph Baum, Raymond Danon, Jean-Luc Ormières
Starring Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve, Luigi Vannucchi, Tony Roberts, Bobo Lewis
The tranquil isolation of a rugged yet refined French expatriate (Montand) domiciled on an island off the coast of Caracas is disrupted by a fortuitous encounter with a mercurial newlywed (Deneuve) fleeing her brutish, oleaginous husband (Vannucchi) and an American nightclub owner whose original Toulouse-Lautrec she's abstracted in redress of his arrearage. An accomplished cast makes the most of their unidimensional roles: Deneuve is as beguiling (and bleached!) as ever, Montand exerts his prodigious presence to exude a curbed fervency, and Vannucchi and Roberts play their farce to the hilt. No less diverting is a fine production design, replete with homemade mechanisms and agriculture demonstrating the inspired functionality of this hermit's insular lifestyle. It's as compelling, riotous and romantic as French genre pictures come, parrying prognosis with a novel plot twist every twenty minutes, though its leads' destined denouement is as ineluctable as satisfying.
Sex is Comedy (2002)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit, António da Cunha Telles
Starring Anne Parillaud, Grégoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida, Ashley Wanninger
Of the many romans a clef Breillat's realized as novels and features, none are so satisfying or swollen with the feminist iconoclast's insight as this fictionalized account of the Fat Girl shoot initiated immediately sequent, which exceeds both its subject and most other pictures treating of filmic production. Parillaud enacts a slimmer, sexier Breillat simulacrum with correspondent coiffure and sable ensemble, wrangling her onerous pair of pouting young actors: an insubordinate leading man (Colin, presumably interpreting Libero De Rienzo) opposite frigid Mesquida (as herself, essentially), whose mutual enmity discomfits their director's undertaking and especially her ambition to actualize an exquisitely unsavory scene of seduction and sodomy. Channeling her directress, the Parisian player exactly exhibits her anxieties, adamance, longanimity, vagaries, prejudices and voracity to bare her unexpurgated temperament and experience to an audience with uncommon, commendable candor. Some of the Fat Girl staff were again employed here, and crew members are often featured in histrionic capacities performing their designated tasks. Nigh so amusing as illuminating, Breillat's budget masterwork relates the delicate, deviling trials of filmmaking, and the thrilling triumph of a conception committed to film by one of the most pertinacious living auteurs.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Day for Night, A Man Vanishes or Fat Girl.
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Georges Arnaud, Walon Green
Produced by William Friedkin, Bud S. Smith
Starring Roy Scheider, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Bruno Cremer
From the flagrant wreckage of a sabotaged oil well in an unspecified South American jungle spans two hundred miles of muddy, rocky, rugged, flexuous road fraught with slaughterous rebels, ramshackle platforms and bridges, and seemingly insurmountable obturations to a sordid slum where an unstable cache of nitroglycerine selected to extinguish that site's unrelenting blaze is loaded onto two battered, refurbished cargo trucks driven by a quartet of lammed malefactors: a Latino hitman (Rabal), French banker (Cremer), Palestinian terrorist (Amidou) and American mob driver (Scheider). Friedkin's sweaty, savage adaptation of Arnaud's The Wages of Fear is at least as enthralling as Clouzot's chef-d'oeuvre, embracing profuse excitation and substance in equal measure by grippingly graphic depictions of desperate men galvanized by the challenges, frustrations and fatal rigors of their supremely exigent enterprise and all its attending cruel vagaries to perseverance, greatness, furor and madness. Exploiting his chief assets -- an eximiously expressive lead cast and locations of Elizabeth, Veracruz, Jerusalem, Paris, La Altagracia, New Mexico's Bisti Badlands and the wilds of the Dominican Republic -- to amplify the realism of this fantastic conveyance, Hurricane Billy judiciously curbed most of his cinematic flourishes and resorted to an unobtrusively observational style, his every shot maximizing harrowing tension and suspense of a potency that persists in repeat viewings. Withal, those thrills of parlous remotion and transport constituting the picture's second half are anteceded by expository turpitudes: a contumeliously unorthodox heist, the fulmination of an Israeli bank inciting the IDF's blistering reprisal, and a fiery provincial riot provoked by the unceremonious delivery of rig laborers' weltered and charred corses to their village. A soaring synthesized score of pulsing arpeggiation by Tangerine Dream underscores apprehension and anticipation in sparing application, never diverting viewers from the pitfalls its protagonists hazard. Regrettably, this beau ideal of action cinema was eclipsed by the grand umbra of George Lucas' coterminous and pivotal phenomenon to evanesce, but contemporary acclaim by cineastes and Friedkin's faithful swell its revival annually...
The Tenant (1976)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Roland Topor, Gérard Brach, Roman Polanski
Produced by Andrew Braunsberg, Alain Sarde, Hercules Bellville
Starring Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet, Shelley Winters, Bernard Fresson, Romain Bouteille, Rufus
Nigh every shot of Polanski's masterful castigation against ethno-national prejudice and personal paranoia brims with allusive guile and dudgeon, starring Romek as a meek immigrant clerk in oppugnant Paris who procures at some stiff expense a slightly sordid apartment suite of exiguous amenities, whose previous resident mysteriously defenestrated herself. Isolated by and persecuted for his exogenous condition, this chary outsider finds little more camaraderie among his bawdily contumelious colleagues (Fresson, Bouteille, et al.) than with his hostile landlord (Douglas), concierge (Winters) and fellow tenants, who reprehend him for disturbances minor, blameless and seemingly false. His sole cordial connection's established by romancing a gorgeous, genial friend (Adjani) of the hospitalized anterior lessee, who he visits under friendly pretenses to sate his curiosity...but as his anxieties and rancor swell with the contumely he sustains, the timid immigrant's adoption of his predecessor's traits and trappings proves as much a means of relation as the vessel of his nascent madness. Not too many artists have so scathingly anatomized both societal biases and paranoid psychosis in direct correlation as had Romek as one of his continent's thorniest migrants, and while his third flamboyant address of disquiet in apartmental confines (torn from Panic Movement author Topor's novel Le locataire chimérique) suffered almost unanimous censure by obtuse critics and an indifferent public, it may be his thematically richest offering, conscientiously cut and composed with an unerringly equivocal eye for intimation and effect. As fine in the lead as his picture's most surreal flourishes, the auteur's very nearly upstaged by his fantastic cast, all clownishly dubbed in English to emphasize their characters' essential shallowness. Almost incalculable in its influence (most famously manifest in certain pictures by Lynch and the Coens), Polanski's refracted exposure of collective animus and the persecution complex submits in Kafkaesque candor a critical question concerning character: exactly what measure of one's identity is informed and defined by perceived persecution?
Recommended for a double feature paired with Repulsion, Images, Barton Fink, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive...
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by John le Carré, Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan
Produced by Liza Chasin, Olivier Courson, Ron Halpern, Debra Hayward, John le Carré, Peter Morgan, Douglas Urbanski, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo, Wolfgang Braun, Eric Heumann, Alexandra Ferguson
Starring Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, David Dencik, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke, John Hurt, Simon McBurney, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Ciarán Hinds
Every furtive twist and revelation distinguishing the tortuous plot of Le Carré's celebrated spy novel is enucleated with befitting understatement in this late feature adaptation that telegraphs not a hint to the uninitiated in its audience. Drab environs of '70s London, Budapest and Istanbul are credibly replicated with fine period design shot in high contrast sans adornment to emphasize a popular ensemble becoming to the dramatis personae so familiar to Le Carré's faithful readership. Renowned for his snarling, fulminatory histrionics, Oldman perforce forbears his overwrought M.O. to brilliantly underplay reticent cold warrior George Smiley with unflinching deliberation; the embattled yet tenacious retiree's incertitude, desperation and determination are scarcely insinuated by his nicest aspects in an interpretation of elliptic polish. Whenever pensive, imperiled or distraught, every counterspy and infiltrator's framed in Alfredson's fastidious composition through apertures, windows and enfilades, architectural rectilinearity signifying the sacrifices and social constraints they suffer to affirm their immurements of vocation and circumstance. If it's not the finest espionage picture, Tinker Tailor's elegance and insight is nearly unparalleled in the genre: no other movie's so thoroughly yet inexplicitly described espionage as a deficient succedaneum for a legitimate lifestyle, nor its artful agents and officers as so blindly fallible in spite of their perspicacity.
The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
Directed and written by Sylvain Chomet
Produced by Didier Brunner, Viviane Vanfleteren, Paul Cadieux, Regis Ghezelbash, Colin Rose
Corsican mobsters abduct three cyclists competing in the Tour de France to exploit their stamina in a backstair gambling scheme; in pursuit athwart the Atlantic, one contender's dogged Portuguese grandmother and her constant, corpulent canine enlist the aid of the titular Triplets, erstwhile music hall chorines turned bricoleur musicians, to rescue her thewy grandson and his rivals. Lavish with period detail, Chomet's fictive reminiscence of inter- and postwar France graphically celebrates two eras' Gallic zeitgeist with an incisively parodic peculiarity lampooning French and American cultures while belying the gravity of its protagonists' poverty and peril. Howbeit, nary a single satiric nor nostalgic facet of this cunning animation occupies the viewer as may its grotesque character design: slumped, steatopygous and orthogonal figures, grossly magnified lineaments and bizarre physical disproportions denote ethnicities, vocations and conditions with a lucidity equaling exposition, and congruous with its virtual absence of dialogue. As both a charming yet unsentimental story of suspense and homage to the unique ambiances of the Third Republic and late years of Pompidou, it's matched by few features and mayhap no other cartoon.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
Directed and written by Werner Herzog
Produced by Werner Herzog, Hans Prescher, Daniel Camino
Starring Klaus Kinski, Del Negro, Helena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Peter Berling, Edward Roland, Cecilia Rivera, Daniel Ades, Alejandro Repullés
Amalgamated from the butcherly mania of Zanzibari revolutionary John Okello and misadventures of doomed conquistadors Gonzalo Pizarro, Pedro de Ursúa and Lope de Aguirre, Herzog's breakthrough classic agglutinates by his fevered imagination myth and historical fact to communicate the lunatic folly of seditious ambition in the face of impending annihilation. Toting artillery and palanquins through rampant rainforest and wetlands, a corps led by Pizarro (Repullés) of Spanish soldiers, clerics and aristocrats aided by indigenous slaves seek the apocryphal gilt city of El Dorado. When their rations wane, he dispatches a contingent led by Ursúa (Guerra) and Aguirre (Kinski) to locate their destination with representatives of the clergy and patriciate in tow: opportunistic priest Gaspar de Carvajal (Negro) and bloated prince Don Fernando de Guzman (Berling). This party peregrinating the Amazon upon rafts suffers attrition by ambuscades of autochthonic assailants, natural perils, mishaps, disease and treachery: resolute in his quest, Aguirre soon wrests command of the troop by suasion, slaughter and cajolery, appointing Guzman nominal governor of their band and emperor designate of El Dorado in defiance of the Habsburg crown. Whilst coping with herculean challenges compounded by a hostile climate and his truculent leading man, Herzog worked wonders with a minuscule budget, crafting a journey of epic ambit from the sprawl of Amazonian vistas and immensity of Kinski's barbarous presence, the best imaginable to convey his conquerer manqué's mad arrogation to imperium. Savagery internecine and otherwise is beheld through the same precise and dispassionate lens as meditative lingering shots of rapids, placid waters, the conquistadorial train wending along precipices and its expedition's restive members, whose passage was perceived by Herzog an obverse to that of his tiny crew, a dedicated ogdoad who abetted the realization of his vision in a wilderness ranking among this world's most dangerous. Dread and madness glaring onscreen reverberate in the baleful tonal sonority of Popol Vuh's music; in this miasma, Germany's most accomplished living filmmaker submerged himself to incarnate a primal depravity as historic figures whose evanescence was sped by the Amazon's ravages in equipollence to its lowliest creatures.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Apocalypse Now.
Branded to Kill (1967)
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Written by Mitsutoshi Ishigami, Hachiro Guryu (Seijun Suzuki, Takeo Kimura, Atsushi Yamatoya, Yozo Tanaka, Yasuaki Hangai, Chusei Sone, Seiichiro Yamaguchi, Yutaka Okada)
Produced by Kaneo Iwai, Takiko Mizunoe
Starring Jo Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Isao Tamagawa, Hiroshi Minami
Constantly gratifying his fetish for the aroma of steamed rice, an assassin (Shishido) ranked ternary among the Yakuza's freelancers finds himself lured and choused when he agrees to escort an endangered stranger (Nanbara) and terminate various professionals with unique flair, running gauntlets of gunfire no more lethal than the gambits of his faithless and libidinous wife (Ogawa) or a morbidly mystifying beauty (Mari) practicing proclivities for avicide and lepidopticide. Nearly a half-century since its thorny release, Suzuki's silly, sexy, stunning crime thriller has long since been acknowledged a masterpiece of madcap cinema, but Japanese theatergoers in '67 were initially as unimpressed as Nikkatsu president Kyusaku Hori, who sacked his most erratic talent for shooting pictures that, in his undervaluation, made neither sense nor profit. How could anyone misprize Suzuki's ingenious segues, mesmerizing pans, masking monochromatic animation, pricelessly impossible gunplay and chic interiors? Every other shot engages the eye: a showerhead's efflux obfuscates marital copulation, negative footage of cityscapes radiate danger, and spotlit subjects loom larger than death. All of his supporting castmates serve as deadpan foils for Shishido, as magnetic for his sweeping range -- from blase equanimity to bibulous paranoia to feverish triumph -- as those surgically swollen cheeks, among the most remarkably individual lineaments yet adopted by a leading man. Suzuki's transparent weariness of the Yakuza genre's institutionalism spurred satirical pokes, deviant gimmickry, a willfully offbeat pace and extempore execution that urged his idiom to the brink of surrealism, yet were merely intended to maximize his project's entertainment! Fixated on their homicidal expertise and its attendant rank, these hitmen demonstrate that life's hardly cheap for its expendability, but the substantial conflict and success transpired in reality: Suzuki's victorious lawsuit against Nikkatsu for wrongful dismission and breach of contract, and protests organized by partnerships of students, cinephiles and peers such as Shinoda and Oshima in response to the studio's petty abstraction of his feature catalog from private and theatrical distribution cemented the significance and enlarged the popularity of his output, and established the industry oddball as a cult hero...albeit one who waited a decade before receiving his next invitation to direct another theatrical feature.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Roman Polanski, Gérard Brach
Produced by Sam Waynberg, Gene Gutowski, Michael Klinger, Tony Tenser
Starring Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Geoffrey Sumner, Renee Houston, Jack MacGowran, Iain Quarrier
A marital mismatch's lifestyle of reputed repose is disrupted by twain waves of welter when a jittery, retired industrialist (Pleasence) and his beddable, whimsically wanton trophy wife (Dorléac) residing in an ancient manse of the Northumberland seaboard suffer imposition first by an injured couple of crooks (Stander, MacGowran), then an unheralded party of the retiree's intolerable friends. Polanski's jet-black comedy first pits natural nebbish Pleasence against raspy Stander's buirdly barbarism, but both the characters' and audience's sympathies are twisted by actions wholly dictated by fancy and umbrage, relating a common superficiality between perpetrator and bourgeois. Keenly scripted and shot by one of but a few filmmakers to exploit both Dorléac sisters effectively, this hysterical specimen of Polanski's perfect pacing and inconspicuously painstaking images merely demonstrates that necessaries are more relative and less overt than most might imagine.
Dirty Like an Angel (1991)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Pierre Sayag, Emmanuel Schlumberger, Nella Banfi, Robert Boner, Alessandro Verdecchi
Starring Claude Brasseur, Lio, Claude-Jean Philippe, Nils Tavernier, Roland Amstutz, Léa Gabriele
Lust is the fillip that incites indiscretion, aggravates acrimony and effectuates love, irrevocably altering the relationship of two sexist detectives: a gruff senior inspector (Brasseur) whose failing health actually prompts a youthful impetuosity, and his handsome, miscreant subordinate (Tavernier) neglecting his pristine, pulchritudinous trophy wife (Lio) whilst relentlessly whoring. When a drug dealer whom the former has long befriended secretes himself after cozening his rivals, the aging investigator assigns his inconstant junior to guard this fugitive's family as he pursues his marital treasure, whose desolation may impel her to receptivity. Despite her characters' concupiscence and vulgarity, Rohmer's idiom is palpable in the thoughtful and realistic deliberation of Breillat's final contrivance in concern of flics, handily juggling the drama of both police procedure and assignations as she delineates them beyond initial expectations; Brasseur's cantankerous cop unearths a dormant, uncharacteristic tenderness, and Lio plays the demure object of his jaundiced affections as neither a retiring mouse nor one of Breillat's usual brooding coquettes. Both the weathered leading man and pop star turned histrionic neophyte do their immersive script justice, rendering mutual seduction to adoration through vituperation with praiseworthy plausibility. Autumnal Paris's cozy milieu and a potentially inceptive conclusion amplify the perverse appeal of this lubricious dissentient's most restrained project to date.
Recommended for a double feature paired with 36 Fillette.
Directed by George Melford, Enrique Tovar Ávalos
Written by Bram Stoker, John L. Balderston, Hamilton Deane, Garrett Fort, Dudley Murphy, Baltasar Fernández Cué
Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr., Paul Kohner
Starring Carlos Villarías, Lupita Tovar, Eduardo Arozamena, Pablo Álvarez Rubio, Barry Norton, José Soriano Viosca
Every evening succeeding Tod Browning's diurnal photography of Universal's premiere adaptation of Bram Stoker's gothic novel found that production's sets again occupied by an international cast and alternate crew who staged and shot a Hispanophone variant of the horror classic for Latino markets that both accommodated and reflected the ethos of its target audience. Melford was a veteran of the silent era whose broad framing better exploited the magnitude and stygian severity of those gloomiest stage settings than Browning's efforts, and a latitude consequent of his movie's secondary priority and the liberality of its intended demographic enabled him to intimate the tacit salacity of Stoker's romance and define his characters with greater depth in a running time exceeding that of its similitude by near twenty minutes. As Browning couldn't speak Spanish, uncredited journeyman Ávalos directed the cast, whose comportment is decidedly more theatrical than that of their Anglophone counterparts. Villarías' Dracula hasn't the ominous suavity that secured Lugosi's legend, but he swimmingly alternates from allurement to monstrous menace. Likewise, Tovar's luscious objet du désir (here Eva to Helen Chandler's Mina) exudes a playful sensuality unimaginable in the English pic, while Rubio plays lunatic lickspittle Renfield with derangement of a shrieking delirium that Dwight Frye never mustered. Contemporary reappraisal often favors this as the superior picture; while its comparative merits are contestable, no viewer can deny that Melford's vision disbosoms far more of Stoker's spirit.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Dracula.
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Ishiro Honda
Written by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Mike Y. Inoue, Hisao Kurosawa, Seikichi Iizumi, Allan H. Liebert, Steven Spielberg
Starring Akira Terao, Toshihiko Nakano, Chishu Ryu, Mitsunori Isaki, Masayuki Yui, Mieko Harada, Chosuke Ikariya, Martin Scorsese, Mitsuko Baisho, Toshie Negishi, Hisashi Igawa, Yoshitaka Zushi
Not a jot more or less lucid than their sources, this feature comprehends vivid dramatizations of eight dreams conceived during Kurosawa's slumber: on a rainy day, the director as a tad (Nakano) ventures into a forest against the counsel of his mother (Baisho) to furtively observe a procession of vulpecular spirits celebrating an espousal; during Hinamatsuri not a decade later, he's (Isaki) briefly intrigued by his sister's hina-ningyo set before lured by a young girl to an orchard where trees bearing peaches were felled by his family, and encounters the dolls' imperial spirits personated in hierarchic formation, as aggrieved as he for their loss; a mountaineering quartet meet with a blizzard, during which the most mulish among them (Yui) is visited by a bewitching yuki-onna (Harada); after measuring a reverberant rural tunnel, a discharged army commander is confronted by his deceased platoon in either ignorance or defiance of their quietus; in early middle age, Kurosawa (Terao) admires a selection of Van Gogh's masterworks in a gallery before traversing several of them in search and pursuit of the madly nettlesome master (Scorsese!), who elaborates on the wonders of natural beauty and strenuity its delineation connotes before his admiring pursuer ranges to revel in the magnified beauty of evocative brushstrokes as loci; as nuclear reactors inadvertently detonate to render Mount Fuji incandescent, AK accompanies two other survivors (Negishi, Igawa) dwelling on the depredation of nuclear horror; a post-apocalyptic wasteland's the stage for Wind Man's meeting with a lesser demon (Ikariya) bemoaning their lot amidst dandelions enormously escalated by nuclear fallout and other floral mutations; in an idyllic hamlet replete with watermills where modern conveniences are abjured in favor of natural harmony, a centenarian (Ryu) elucidates his austere lifestyle to Kurosawa and deprecates the pollution and misery attending industrialization. His last extravagant production succeeds as both an oneiric expression of Kurosawa's apprehensions and admirations, and a cinematic model for adaptation in this mode. Ever poignant for and despite its curiosities and hazy beauty, the burden herein concerns AK's reverence and fear for nature, a preoccupation articulated more in observation than didacticism. Opulent production values are musically complemented by Chopin's Raindrop prelude, In a Village from Ippolitov-Ivanov's first Caucasian Sketches suite and a slyly stirring and effectively applied score by Shinichiro Ikebe surpassing anything he composed for Imamura. Clearly, Kurosawa grasped the significance of the dream as a distorting or refracting window through which reality's scrutinized; bookending with cavalcades in commencement of a wedding and conclusion at a funeral, the aging Emperor strove in his final decade with an ambition worthy of Fellini to synopsize life through that sleeping veil.
Hotel des Amériques (1981)
Directed by André Téchiné
Written by André Téchiné, Gilles Taurand
Produced by Alain Sarde
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Patrick Dewaere, Etienne Chicot, Sabine Haudepin, Dominique Lavanant, François Perrot, Josiane Balasko
Desolation's the commonality that binds an anesthesiologist (Deneuve) whose addiction to barbiturates stanches the grief attending her inamorato's recent death, and the erratically unbalanced son (Dewaere) of a hotel manager when she nearly runs him down in the wee hours; their untenable yet persisting romance provokes a constellation of acquaintances, especially his guarded yet ardent sister (Haudepin) and intolerably ignoble best friend (Chicot, as usual). Their first of seven collaborations to date finds Téchiné and Deneuve alike enkindling the best in one another as he explores his protagonists' fervor and heartbreak, skirting elegiac conventions to relate the durability of a love buckled beneath the weight of derangement and insecurity. Through Téchiné's lenses, Biarritz brims with forlorn poignancy and his single, elegantly exposed augury consorts with the yearning emanative in every surpassing personation, attesting the Gallic conviction that all solitude either bespeaks or occasions misery.
Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Written by Frank Wedekind, Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Produced by Patrick Sobelman, Geoffrey Cox, Alain de la Mata, Paul Trijbits
Starring Zoé Auclair, Bérangère Haubruge, Lea Bridarolli, Hélène de Fougerolles, Marion Cotillard, Olga Peytavi-Müller
Foucault would surely have thrilled to anatomize the passive means by which the cloistered orphans of a remote boarding school are constrained by competition, selective obscurantism, dissemination of scuttlebutt and the accordance of authority in this moony reflection on aberrant childhood. Less an adaptation than a subtilized impression of Wedekind's novel Mine-Haha, Hadzihalilovic's analytic celebration of juvenile vim and natural splendor resonates with the unlikely realism resident in equivocacy: unlike too many of her peers, she treasures and masterfully exercises diegetic enigmas. Never pampered, little sylphs skylark within their orphanage's forested, halcyon grounds, autonomous whenever unattended by their chief pedagogue (Fougerolles) or ballet instructor (Cotillard). Their ages are chromatically denoted by ribbons securing pigtails, and the eldest preteens among them are empowered the charge of their juniors - a representation that exhibits how maturation commences as a facile mimicry of adulthood. An aqueous significance exceeds rural and recreational contexts as an emblem of transience, incandescence and danger. Metaphors interspersed for the attentive gracefully reveal and prefigure implications abundant, as the callow whims, perturbations and aspirations of budding filles chastened and conformed by reliance and peer pressure vividly recall the wonder and impetuosity and impenitence of youth. By so acutely yet gently presenting childhood as a cowing landscape, festive yet fugitive playground and microcosm of adult exploitation, Hadzihalilovic's crafted a picture as mature as her subjects aren't with scrupulous framing and performances of allusive nuance. She's as complete a filmmaker as any presently active.
The Marquise of O (1976)
Directed by Eric Rohmer
Written by Heinrich von Kleist, Eric Rohmer
Produced by Barbet Schroeder, Klaus Hellwig
Starring Edith Clever, Bruno Ganz, Edda Seippel, Peter Lühr, Otto Sander
In retrospect, one can scarcely imagine a filmmaker more opportune an adaptor than Rohmer of Kleist's Napoleonic novel; notwithstanding the French auteur's precedent dedication to contemporary narrative, his deliberately austere, loquacious, novelistic and unscored style perfectly befits that gentle treatment of faltered rectitude and familial discord in a thoroughly Catholic context. In a small Italian town besieged by Russian forces, a peeraged, dashingly gallant Lieutenant-Colonel (Ganz) rescues its governor's comely and widowed daughter (Clever) from ravishment at the hands of his juniors immediately afore his capture of the community's citadel. Erroneous hearsay of his demise in battle succeeding an abrupt leave shock the Marquise and her family less than the count's visitation soon thence, passionate profession of love for her or impetration for her marital hand, for which he demonstrates his willingness to sacrifice his military career and suffer court-martial. Unaccountable and symptomatic evidence of her gravidity further complicates the irreproachable lady's dubiety regarding her suitor while straining her filial relations to sunderance; only the conciliatory force of love can absolve sudden sins commoved by supposition and sanctimony, or the irresistible impulsion of lust. Outstanding performances by this film's famed cast invest to their every exchange a stately conviction, but many of its finest moments reside in the fleeting, unspoken idyll of children, craft and natural splendor. Paired with Néstor Almendros's muted photography, Rohmer's painterly composition is as kindred to neoclassical portraiture as the exceedingly elaborate pageantry of Kubrick's coetaneous Barry Lyndon, and this lauded first and finest of his period pictures is as cosily, simply satisfying as ever: another in a string of classics from the most uncompromisingly authentic and economical of the nouvelle vague's luminaries.
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Written by Thomas Hauser, Costa-Gavras, Donald Stewart, John Nichols
Produced by Edward Lewis, Mildred Lewis, Peter Guber, Jon Peters, Terence Nelson
Starring Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, John Shea, Melanie Mayron, Charles Cioffi, Janice Rule, David Clennon, Richard Bradford, Keith Szarabajka, Joe Regalbuto, Richard Venture
A tragic mystery associative to purges executed in the aftermath of a military putsch in unidentified Chile assumes a familial dimension when a curmudgeonly businessman (Lemmon) rendezvous with the wife (Spacek) of his son, an inquisitive filmmaker and freelance correspondent (Shea) who's suddenly vanished without trace or report. With the aid of his surviving friends (Mayron, Szarabajka), ingratiatory consuls (Clennon, Doolittle), a few eyewitnesses and an investigative presswoman (Rule), their inquiry unveils both the ultimate fate of their kin and extent of the U.S. State Department's intergovernmental complicity and obscurantism. Costa-Gavras' skillful coalescence of interpersonal drama and political conspiracy is no less carking or captivating here for its moneyed polish than in his French pictures: graphic reenactments of Pinochet's sanguineous coup, the ructions and hecatombs of its tyrannic wake and a personal percontation prosecuted in homes, hospitals, an embassy and a charnel house in the Greek dissident's peak picture hit as hard as any he's fashioned, swelled by one of Vangelis' best synthesized scores. Neither did he forfeit any of his trademark craft or subtlety, demonstrating both innocent and deliberate contrarieties between account and actuality with cutbacks and narrations that further obfuscate the means by which the irrevocable's committed. Heading an invariably terrific cast, Lemmon and Spacek are superb, slowly and credibly transitioning from an adversarial to affectionate relation as the former's reproving yet principled father bonds with his daughter-in-law, perceives in his son's output his total substance, and realizes himself as naif for his initial credulity regarding his government's integrity as was his boy in the conviction that American identity is unconditionally salvational. Almost as unsettling as the outdoor omnipresence of soldiers, public plentiousness of cadavers and stridence of gunshots and helicopters conducing a miasmic evocation, Venture and Cioffi unnerve as an ambassador whose geniality turns to glacial severity and a creepily underhanded Navy captain, as does Bradford as a deviously obscure military operative, and one of the lost individual's last known interlocutors. As an allegorical denunciation of both the Pinochean junta and their American allies, and history of a pathetic incident, Gavras' most proclaimed feature also emphasizes a caveat of conduct: in an event of martial law, inquisition is less risky than suicidal.
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)
Directed by Xan Cassavetes
Produced by Steve Matzkin, Rick Ross, Marshall Persinger, Susan Heimbeinder, F.X. Feeney, Jonathan Montepare, Leslie Lowell, Alison Palmer Bourke, Ed Carroll
Starring Jerry Harvey, F.X. Feeney, James B. Harris, Vera Carlisle Anderson, Robert Altman, Stuart Cooper, Henry Jaglom, Douglas Venturelli, C.L. Batten, James Woods, Paul Verhoeven, Theresa Russell, Charles H. Joffe, Kevin Thomas, Alan Rudolph, Alexander Payne, Charles Champlin, Jacqueline Bisset, Penelope Spheeris, Bob Strock, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Vilmos Zsigmond
For cinephilic Angelenos, seven years of incomparable entertainment and edification broadcast by L.A.'s early subscriptive telecast Z Channel encompassed an international sweep of commercial blockbusters, celebrated classics, exploitation flicks, neglected chefs-d'oeuvre, softcore pornography: the boundless and omnibus orbit of its disturbed, innovative program director Jerry Harvey, briefly a spaghetti western's screenwriter and pioneer of the commercialized director's cut who successfully screened The Wild Bunch with Peckinpah's ministration as the luminary had intended it at the Beverly Canon Theater, not too many years before an irate epistle to Z Channel evincing his expertise concerning televised presentation won him there his managerial berth. Cassavetes' comprehensive account of Harvey's uproarious life and ruinous demise embodies press clippings detailing every phenomenon that the channel induced and weathered, abundant scenes from features which subtly demonstrate the amenity and allure of content that Harvey so avidly aired while paralleling narrative tenor, and an embarrassment of interviews with his ex-wife (Anderson), friends, collaborators and subjects, all interspersed with excerpts from a radio interview in which Harvey articulated with some inhibition many of his objectives, passions and disappointments. Perhaps the most gratifying highlights of this mass are instances in which surviving filmmakers (Harris, Altman, Jaglom, Rudolph, Cooper, Spheeris, Verhoeven), actors (Woods, Russell, Bisset) and critics (Feeney, Thomas, Champlin) who Harvey celebrated, popularized and befriended explicate the aesthetic apercus by which he discerned great cinema, and how his engaging programming monopolized an audience. Z's worldwide televised premieres of director's cuts presented the erst abbreviated Heaven's Gate, Berlin Alexanderplatz and Once Upon a Time in America to audiences who had seen only contracted cuts in theaters; thematic marathons showcased accomplished filmmakers and stars whose renown was limited beyond their native France, Japan, Italy, Netherlands, etc.; classics and their remakes were cablecast in consecution; beset visionaries from Cimino to Altman to Friedman were exclusively interviewed and solicited for projects that had enjoyed scant if any distribution. During a period when New Hollywood was winding down, Harvey was eager to screen its many brilliant flops...or sebaceous sex comedies, jidaigeki, silent obscurities, early Technicolor epics...the universal breadth of feature films transmigrated to television for transfixed audiences was both his secret weapon successfully deployed against the impingement of HBO and Showtime in the L.A. market, and mechanism by which he curated a vast panoply of filmic works to a local subscriber base. This singular dedication to the endorsement of motion pictures unfortunately proceeded from the same dysfunctional formative years as the melancholy that haunted Harvey lifelong: son of a callous Catholic judiciary hardliner who routinely administered capital punishment and phlegmatic mother, and brother to two sisters who capitulated to suicide, the glowering alcoholic's mercuriality was as familiar to his circles as his generosity. Compounding frustrations fomented the execution of Harvey's adored second wife an hour before his own suicide served as a sick expiation for his iniquity. If Harvey's sad, short life seemed destitute of course or satisfaction, his secondhand vision nonetheless communicated a sprawling reverence for the cinematic art that no TV broadcaster had theretofore expressed. Fellow cineaste Cassavetes does her eminent patronym no disrepute with this exhaustive assessment of a supremely sagacious cognoscente who strove to publicly chart a medium from its heart of intrigue to its thrilling fringes.
Abuse of Weakness (2013)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit, Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira, Nadia Khamlichi, Adrian Politowski, Nicolas Steil, Gilles Waterkeyn
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Kool Shen, Laurence Ursino, Christophe Sermet
Compulsion trumps cognizance when a veteran director (Huppert) incapacitated by ictus relinquishes a small fortune intended to fund her forthcoming production to an infamous grifter (Shen) who she's cast in a bloody lead role in exchange for his repellent consort. Breillat's bamboozlement by celebrity swindler Christophe Rocancourt enkindled first her roman a clef afore this adaptation in abidance of her entrenched autobiographical proclivities, and seems as much an explication as a depiction of her muddled credulity whilst disabled. Once again, she's exploited her recherche knack for casting an experienced, masterly histrion opposite a talented amateur as leads to tremendous eclat: Huppert perfectly realizes the throes of cerebrovascular and epileptic seizure (and all their debilitating attendant symptoms) with no less conviction than Breillat's caustic humor in barbed chaff with Shen's loathsome, calculatedly prickly fraud, whose noxious taste and apparently fatuous comportment serve to brace the dissemblance of his practiced guile. Huppert's as identifiable as any of the anterior actresses Breillat's selected to play her similitudes (Alexandra, Laffin, Parillaud, et al.) but her co-star's portrayal courts condign calumniation: nobody could reasonably confound glib, handsome Rocancourt with the comparatively crude confidence man personated by pug-ugly Shen. If it isn't an entirely satisfactory revenge, Breillat's still devised graphically penetrative pictures of her maladies, the oddly platonic infatuation by which she was mulcted, and the maladjusted victim complicit in her own ruination.
April Fool's Day (1986)
Directed by Fred Walton
Written by Danilo Bach
Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.
Starring Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Ken Olandt, Pat Barlow, Clayton Rohner, Mike Nomad, Leah Pinsent, Deborah Goodrich, Thomas F. Wilson, Jay Baker
At the invitation of their skittish friend (Foreman), a collegiate septet visit the insular mansion conditionally devised her during spring break for a casual jubilee; when their number commences to contract by murderous attrition, gaiety turns terrifying. Walton's last successfully exoteric picture typifies the mode and caliber of production that Mancuso propagated with hits like the Friday the 13th sequels and television series: photogenic, plausible players tackle Bach's crafty and often riotous script with a flip, funny gusto sadly absent in most contemporary slashers. Comfortably conventional yet compulsive for its winding plot rich in red herrings, this lightweight love letter of a waning genre reserves a few frolic surprises for its seasoned and jaded audience.
Big Trouble (1986)
Directed by Andrew Bergman, John Cassavetes
Written by Andrew Bergman
Produced by Mike Lobell
Starring Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, Beverly D'Angelo, Charles Durning, Paul Dooley, Robert Stack
Last and least ambitious of all Cassavetes' features is this amusing farce in which the stars of The In-Laws are reunited as a squirrelly insurance agent (Arkin) desperate to pay his musical triplets' prohibitive tuition and a charming, chronically fraudulent optimist (Falk) of putatively ailing health whose foxy wife (D'Angelo) solicits the former's abetment of her mariticide to bilk his firm for their mutual benefit. From a slow start, progressively outrageous contretemps and felonies throughout yield some priceless moments cunningly interpreted by seasoned players precisely apt for their respective roles. One of but a few movies helmed for hire by Cassavetes, it still bears many of his trademark conceits: oblique composition, detached wide shots, overhead close-ups, twain L cuts. The institutional modesty of this picture may portend its independent luminary's lapsing directorial fortunes, but his flair for exploiting the inelegance and quirk of a fair script in his last years is irrefutable.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Illegally Yours.
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Written by Julie Maroh, Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
Produced by Abdellatif Kechiche, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua, Laurence Clerc, François Guerrar
Starring Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Mona Walravens, Salim Kechiouche, Alma Jodorowsky, Jérémie Laheurte, Benjamin Siksou, Sandor Funtek, Fanny Maurin, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot
If this cynosure of Cannes in 2013 were a tenth so tremendous as industry and press acclaim annunciated, Kechiche might be apotheosed a second coming of Bresson to deliver French cinema from its Americanized doldrums. It isn't at all, but his vision of Maroh's graphic novel narrating a sapphic romance's euphoric commencement, endurance of heartfelt dedication, decline in languorous divergence, tumultuous dissolution and listless aftermath is gorgeous withal, suffused with ambience resounding the breathless intoxication of young love and photographed with a lambence as lovely as its stars. Diffident secondary junior Exarchopoulos quits her perfunctory relationship with an insipid yet sincerely affectionate classmate (Laheurte) who's underwhelmed her, only to be rebuffed by another (Jodorowsky) while dreaming of an older, boyish art student (Seydoux) who she's publicly espied, and finally meets at a dyke bar. Their succeeding affair blossoms slowly into a first true love of mutual exploration and adoration as they attain professional success, but infidelity issuing from neglect and restiveness devastates in a week all they'd lovingly nurtured for years. Kechiche emphasizes a fundamental aestheticism with his celebration of natural, physical and painterly beauty in long, luminous shots where environmental irradiance reflects sportive perfervency. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux produce a coupled vitality that transcends mere chemistry: together, they're incandescent in conversation and coitus alike, never exceeding a realism almost belied by the dynamism of their shared portrayal. Unsparingly graphic but never gratuitous, copulative sequences in which their lovemaking's exhibited with unadorned, amorous ardor emanate an eroticism unimaginable in the quasi-pornographic pap of Noe or Trier. That titular color's recurrently conspicuous in its torrid designation as chromatic emblems: bedclothes, vesture, nail polish, ingresses, coastal waters and Seydoux's pili during the picture's first half...but never more so than its absence. Scenes in which both girls break bread first with the artist's Falstaffian mother and stepfather (Loiret, Pilot) and then with the budding pedagogue's stiflingly conventional parents (Recoing, Salée) seem to bode their respective futures; a temperamental variance benefits their relationship, but from discordance of their ambitions, a certain divarication's inevitable. Rich visual contrast is no less patent, for Sofian El Fani lenses every scene to beautify the vibrancy of exteriors, attire, flesh, solar effulgence and tenebrious boudoirs. To exploit his leading lady's naturalism, Kechiche shot a plenitude of Exarchopoulos as her character navigates classrooms and bedrooms, protest marches, parties and pride parades, and though not one among her scores of close-ups seems superfluous, the mundane vapidity that proves her hamartia is occasionally too evident. To observe such an impassioned glorification of the tenderest vehemence championed by vulturine Spielberg to advance his exploitative politics is to know nausea, but the means by which Maroh's and Kechiche's story was popularized diminishes neither its quality nor verity: love obliges not only an intensity natural to youth, but a troth and trust of which it's typically innocent.
Body Bags (1993)
Directed by John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis
Written by Billy Brown, Dan Angel
Produced by John Carpenter, Sandy King, Dan Angel
Starring Alex Datcher, Robert Carradine, David Naughton, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Debbie Harry, Mark Hamill, Twiggy, John Agar, John Carpenter
In his first speaking role since his underwhelming cameo in The Fog, Carpenter humorously, hammily hosts the frame story of this playful, triplex horror anthology as an undead coroner expressing a morbid fondness for wordplay and anatomical gore. Assigned to her first night shift at an isolated Gas Station on the outskirts of Michael Myers' hometown, Datcher's a comely collegian contending with her inexperience and strangers creepy and clownish during a spate of serial murders. His receding hairline spurs a vaingloriously insecure bachelor (Keach) to patronize an agency touting by telecast their top-grade crinal restoration procedure; though their treatment augments his Hair to flowing locks, this restoration is but a side-effect of its pestilential objective. A car crash deprives of a major-league heavy hitter (Hamill) one vital Eye, but a successful opthalmic transplant performed by a pioneering surgeon (Agar) replaces it with another of heterochromatic hue; maddened by visions of his donor's atrocities, the batter terrorizes his loving wife (Twiggy). These segments were initially intended to be episodes of an eponymous series pitched to Showtime as a rival to HBO's thematically and stylistically conformable Tales from the Crypt. Though the network scuttled the series, it cablecast this feature-length alternative. Carpenter's portions are respectively exciting and as pleasantly risible as ruffling, but Hooper's offering is the longest and least of the three, and hardly as interesting as Eric Red's kindred and coeval Jeff Fahey vehicle, Body Parts. Nevertheless, if the frights and frolic of Bags aren't satisfactorily frequent to sustain the interest of Carpenter's or Hooper's devotees, it may for them be redeemed by its cast of fan favorites and a copiousness of cameos: Hooper, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Roger Corman, Tom Arnold, et al. Hardly a career highlight for any of its participants, this peripheral curiosity is nonetheless essential viewing for completists of its star moviemakers.
Recommended for a double feature paired any Creepshow feature or Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.
Cash McCall (1960)
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Written by Cameron Hawley, Lenore J. Coffee, Marion Hargrove
Produced by Henry Blanke
Starring James Garner, Natalie Wood, Dean Jagger, Henry Jones, Nina Foch, E.G. Marshall, Roland Winters, Edward Platt, Otto Kruger
Of the plenteous polished, peremptory alpha males who dominated lead roles in the postwar era, few were so versatile as Garner, who's as becoming to the part of a suave financier as it he. When the aging, harried proprietor (Jagger) of a plastics manufacturer wearies of the clout abused by the administrator (Winters) of his largest client, he divests himself by sale to the vulpine raider, whose extravagant emption is as much a means to pursue the hand of his vendor's beauteous daughter (Wood) with whom he's enamored as a legitimate transaction. A succession of misunderstandings arising from incessant machinations, the intrigues of an embittered and infatuated assistant hotel manager (Foch) and the tainted reputation of his trade threaten to stymie McCall's romantic and financial prospects, but by scheme and sincerity, he prevails; don't they always? In conceivably the most satisfying of all his theatrical vehicles, the charismatic star neither overplays nor disappoints in practice of guile and reposed confession of heartsick vulnerability. None among the supporting players constitute a weak link, either: Marshall's in fine, typecast form as McCall's humorless lawyer, Foch metes charm and pathos to lend plausibility to her inane divorcee and Jones renders comic relief as a scrupulous yet ambitious efficiency consultant whose moral permutation underscores the narrative's principle theme. However, this cast's jewel is the indispensable love interest: ever a paragon of filmic femininity, Wood's loveliness nearly exceeds her expressive elan as the lively, lovelorn lass. This time capsule from the close of the '50s is irrefutably dated: Wood's screen mother advises her to marry in lieu of a frivolous career in illustration, and Garner mentions the fugacious potential of a military contract (ha!) in an obiter dictum. Its fun -- and an unexpected depth of characterization revealed by copious exposition -- is no less certain.
Criminal Law (1988)
Directed by Martin Campbell
Written by Mark Kasdan
Produced by Robert K. MacLean, Hilary Heath, Ken Gord, Derek Gibson, John Daly
Starring Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon, Karen Young, Tess Harper, Elizabeth Shepherd, Joe Don Baker, Michael Sinelnikoff, Sean McCann
Scruples are foisted upon rather than acquired by a complete, cocksure criminal defense attorney (Oldman) after the wealthy, pyromaniacal serial rapist and murderer (Bacon) for whom he's wrested an acquittal resolves to retain his services in exchange for extravagant remuneration and an unbidden firsthand exhibition of his malefactions. Notwithstanding its universal critical scorn, Oldman's performance is actually fine, albeit marred by a nebulously unconvincing pan-Atlantic accent. Neither are his co-stars at all deficient; as the demented recidivist, Bacon's frightful, gazing conviction occasionally dwarfs Oldman's own presence: both sustain an absorbing naturalistic tension whether delivering dialogue elegant or bromidicly ostentatious. Accomplished action director Campbell triggers some efficacious shocks with taut cuts, clamant foley and tight close-ups and zooms, but this flick's proficiently depicted morbidity and violence hardly composes its most intriguing scenes. A curious contradistinction between the counselor's most dramatic exchanges with two detectives of his reluctant connivance (Harper, Baker) and a victim's acquaintance (Young) with whom he's romantically involved, and those allusive with an avuncular law professor (Sinelnikoff), his brooding client and his frigid mother (Shepherd) divulge the pathologic key to both the murders and their motive, impel narrative and characters alike, and reflect the duplicities immanent of the culprit, his counsel and jurisprudence itself. Alas, the novel story is burdened with implausibility: Young and Oldman produce terrific chemistry together, but the amorous aspect of their relationship is as absurd as a gaping hole in an otherwise tidy plot: the most fledgling investigator would have solved this case within minutes of the aforementioned key's inculpative disclosure; one can only assume that Mitchell's trenchancy's been much reduced by crapulence. Campbell's slick direction is buttressed by the alternating grime and floridity of Curtis Schnell's sensational production design, best evidenced in a wooden, subterranean bedchamber of a nautical theme. Its many flaws don't overcome this prepossessing (if occasionally preposterous) crime drama's strengths, chief among them an antagonist whose personal depth and deplorably thoughtful proposal of retributive incendiarism and murder as both a perquisite and moral obligation have few cinematic similitudes.
Directed and written by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Arthur Gorson, Bertha Navarro, Francisco Murguía, Bernard L. Nussbaumer, Alejandro Springall, Rafael Cruz, Julio Solórzano Foppa, Jorge Sánchez
Starring Federico Luppi, Margarita Isabel, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Tamara Shanath, Daniel Giménez Cacho
Hematophagous cravings are but one of many archetypal symptoms suffered in exchange for perennial life by those who utilize an ovate biomechanical contraption crafted by an alchemist of the early sixteenth-century in Del Toro's handsome, inspired premier picture. In the 1990s, the respective ages of a meticulous antiques dealer (Luppi) who discovers the sanguineous device and his cute niece (Isabel) are contrasted, as is their affectionate relationship to that of a moribund and hermitically sequestrated industrialist (Brook) fixated on his prospective acquisition of the widget and his brutish, churlish nephew (Perlman), who loathes this senior patron yet acts as his proxy for a fulsome inheritance that'll fund the rhinoplasty for which he longs. At his first directorial post, Del Toro neither pulled punches nor stretched dollars; this bloody, beautifully shot, consistently engrossing variation on vampirism was produced with a professionalism evidencing its $2M budget (a record high for a Mexican production in '93). Transmutation realized by the expert application of marvelously macabre makeup effects and gallows humor alike here underscore the inhumanity of immortality: that titular instrument enables interminable subsistence, but only subject to its user's irrevocable forfeiture of their humanity.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Directed by Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Written by Jim Henson, David Odell
Produced by Jim Henson, Gary Kurtz, Duncan Kenworthy, Bruce Sharman, David Lazer
Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Brian Muehl / Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Percy Edwards, Barry Dennen, Michael Kilgarriff
A solar syzygy of an otherworld's antiquity wreaked by magnification through the titular crystal's magic environmental entropy, while bifurcating the race of mages who imprudently fractured it. Over a millennium's span, these two factions dwindled to a corporeally yoked pair of elderly decades: one consortium of mansuete, lumbering alchemists and a surfeited, vulturine aristocracy of limitless and unabashed cruelty, who exploit the crystal's perverted power to counteract their encroaching decrepitude. A doyen of the former partnership details to a bipedal, murescent adolescent in his care a mission to retrieve and restore to the crystal its lost shard, so that the furbished artifact may during another imminent conjunction restore balance in prophetic accordance and avert a global cataclysm. Henson's marriage of performance and puppetry furnished with sumptuous production values is the most original and ambitious of his studio's offerings, boasting premium practical and animated effects, and sets exuberant with organic and invented vegetation out of doors, and regal and mystic extravagance within. The sheer scale of this production's almost as impressive as its every department's craftsmanship evidenced in spectacles: an astronomer-witch's gargantuan orrery, ruins almost so baroque as the sinful sorcerers' castle, and a vast menagerie of fabricated creatures populating this bleak fantasy. Neither is it without defect, for exposition during the first two acts is as redundant as vague, and many of the plot's perils and villains may prove too nightmarish for especially timid children. Posterior to his collaborations with George Lucas, Kurtz's artistry in the capacities of production and second unit direction is almost as salient as that of puppeteers-directors Henson and Oz, the latter of whom's since enjoyed a fruitful career helming comedies starring Muppets and humans alike. For both its fantastic grandeur and the obsolescence of puppetry, nothing quite like this has since been produced; Henson's vision may be as sui generis as the coaction of talent by which it was incarnated.
Dark Horse (2011)
Directed and written by Todd Solondz
Produced by Derrick Tseng, Ted Hope, Juan Basanta, Craig Shilowich, Nick Quested
Starring Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken, Donna Murphy, Justin Bartha, Zachary Booth, Aasif Mandvi
His every pronounced peculiarity disadvantages a huffy, porcine, purblind, puerile, thinning thirtysomething toy collector (Gelber) whose employment under his weary father (Walken) and camaraderie with his doting mother (Farrow) are strained by a boundless immaturity overt as total social ineptitude and an insufferable species of insolence. Smitten with an introverted depressive (Blair) with whom he shares more compassion than congeniality, this liege yet ludicrous man-child mollified by a lifetime of parental pampering rages at every adversity, blaming all save himself for his squandered opportunities. Even in dreams that confront him with distressing insights affirming his shortcomings and self-doubt, apprehensions and affections, he's too rigidly obtuse to accept his lot, or any substantial responsibility. If that line between pitch-black comedy and solemn drama that Solondz toed in previous pictures is even present here, he ignores it entirely, and nowhere are his mingled hilarity and pathos so affecting as in prolonged static shots and zooms. As an exemplar of his stunted generation, Gelber's hilariously, almost brilliantly embarrassing in the lead, his delivery of both blustering ebullience and the deathly pessimism lurking beneath as gracelessly credible as amusing. Aging, bewigged Walken and Farrow are weirdly Ashkenized with dark contacts, and almost as resounding in their staid gloom as Blair, now a polished veteran of miserable characterization. Abounding with obnoxiously shopworn and superficial pop songs mirroring its subject's temperament, this monition from Solondz to Gen-X and millennial audiences regarding the unique strains of inanity and dysfunction proceeding from prosperity and indiscipline may prove more relevant -- and its protagonist less atypical -- with every passing decade.
Downhill Racer (1969)
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Written by Oakley Hall, James Salter
Produced by Richard Gregson
Starring Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Camilla Sparv, Karl Michael Vogler, Dabney Coleman, Carole Carle, Jim McMullan, Kenneth Kirk, Walter Stroud
Redford was seldom so duly cast or laconic as yet another Errant Young American Man of cinema in the Nixon era, here a blistering, arrogant skiier ascendant in European tournaments to Olympic glory. Perfectly distinctive of the New Hollywood idiom, Richie's debut feature hazards nary a jot of sentiment, etching characterization in broad strokes without cloying contrivances. It's also much busier than his more polished efforts: from ski slopes to hotel suites to operating theaters, Ritchie located striking perspectives wherever Salter's script (adapted from one of Hall's lesser-read novels) located him. Still at the threshold of his fame, Hackman's also in fine form (withal a dyad of flubbed lines) as the requisite coach who dispenses cautionary counsel to subdue his star contender's hubris. Fleet, fantastic footage shot at World Cup races in Lauberhorn, Arlberg-Kandahar, Megève and Hahnenkamm in early '69 constitutes the majority of sportive action, often overshadowing intervallic drama wherein the protagonist's ingenuous egoism isolates him from jaundiced teammates and undermines his affair with a chic, flighty continental (Sparv). American indifference to winter sports sank this exemplary treatment of the subject, but Ritchie and Redford enjoyed collaborative success a few years later with the brutally trenchant political satire, The Candidate.
Eastern Boys (2013)
Directed by Robin Campillo
Written by Robin Campillo, Gilles Marchand
Produced by Hugues Charbonneau, Marie-Ange Luciani
Starring Olivier Rabourdin, Kirill Emelyanov, Daniil Vorobyov, Edéa Darcque, Camila Chakirova, Bislan Yakhiaev, Mohamed Doukouzov
Panic proceeding from domestic entrenchment, lingering postwar trauma, universal commonalities of exploitation and predation, and the cultural and economic gulf between eastern Europe and the continent's central and western nations are dramatized in this handsome quadripartite tale of a lonely, middle-aged professional (Rabourdin) who solicits a cute Ukranian rent boy (Emelyanov) in the concourse of a train station, unwittingly inviting to his plush Parisian apartment a thievish East bloc gang with whom he's affiliated. Accomplished screenwriter and sophomore filmmaker Campillo effectuates his polythematic ambitions with smoothly unhurried pans and distanced static shots, attractive photography and a select cast unburdened by reductive or fanciful characterization; Vorobyov is especially notable as the gang's bellicose, creepily domineering chief. By neither demonizing nor heroizing immigrant characters whose motivations are often as inexplicit as his own delicately presented themes, Campillo stresses both the flukes and crises potential to illegal migration, as well as the eventuality of an affectionate and enduring relationship that could arise from an especially ignoble and inauspicious introduction.
Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Written by Otto Klement, Jerome Bixby, David Duncan, Harry Kleiner
Produced by Saul David
Starring Stephen Boyd, Donald Pleasence, William Redfield, Arthur Kennedy, Raquel Welch
An indispensable scientist is likely another victim of Cold War designs, injured during an assassination attempt mere minutes after deplaning on U.S. soil and transferred to a underground operating theater, where his comatose body is subjected to an unprecedented mode of surgery. Under the command of a jittery physician (Pleasence), an unsurpassed surgeon (Kennedy), his technical coadjutor (Welch) and a coolly jocular G-man (Boyd) are deployed in a nuclear research submarine helmed by a naval captain (Redfield) that's miniaturized to atomic proportions and infused into the patient's carotid artery, from where a sally to the brain where a clot's to be dissolved with a laser rifle seems a daunting yet brief task that won't exceed the hour before the sub and its occupants re-magnify...until a succession of whammies and a presumptive saboteur cumber their efforts, inspire resourcefulness and endanger both the crew and their patient. Varicolored sets and detailed miniatures of imaginative construction enhanced with rear-projected and animated SFX represent the internal environments of adventurous passage from sterile facilities to corpus via syringe, and through arteries, veins, a stopped heart, capillaries, pleural cavity, lymphatic system and the inner ear to the destinal brain -- corporeal sites rendered as outlandish as any otherworldly. Fleischer sustains a fixating suspense heightened by silences and Leonard Rosenman's atonal score to the last few minutes by exploiting the tensions within the submarine's tight confines and the hazards of a sprawling intramural world -- alacritous antibodies, a fistula's whirlpool, gusting respiration, liquidizing corpuscles -- without neglecting potentially treacherous human dangers. Pleasence outshines his co-stars as the claustrophobically misappointed honcho, but his very casting adumbrates a few painfully prognosticable plot points. As one of the last expensive Old Hollywood sci-fi hits, Voyage succeeds on the merits of its technical excellence and conceptual novelty, but its miniature drama is satisfactory withal...for whoever can overlook its numerous plot holes.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Innerspace.
Fort Saganne (1984)
Directed by Alain Corneau
Written by Louis Gardel, Henri de Turenne, Alain Corneau
Produced by Samuel Bronston, Albina du Boisrouvray
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Roger Dumas, Michel Duchaussoy, Sophie Marceau, Catherine Deneuve, Saïd Amadis, Jean-Louis Richard
Essentially the French answer to Lean's Lawrence, this handsomely staged and shot enactment of Louis Gardel's novel narrates the military ascent of a peasant Legionnaire (Depardieu) whose valorous feats in the Saharan front secure regional French imperium and his reputation as a prominent jefe. His personal life's ironically more troublous: tragedy eventuates from a strained fraternity, and his affections are divided for a politician's spoilt and sour daughter (Marceau) and an alluring journalist (Deneuve). Depardieu's larger than life, exuding stoic heart and heroism as the dauntless officer, which is just as well: his is the only character who's adequately defined. Corneau accurately conveys France's prewar zeitgeist, but wastes his stars (especially Deneuve) by pretermitting most character development in favor of decidedly shallow relationships. Philippe Sarde's typically fine score is also mawkishly overused in ably realized yet musically overheated combat scenes that can't compare to those unforgettably silent, such as an Arab warrior's (Amadis) grisly amputation, or a lovesick valediction where Depardieu and Deneuve communicate more with a few expressions than the totality of their discourse. Ultimately, Saganne's as unsatisfying as photogenic, but its conclusion's so poignant and production's so immersive that less discriminating or demanding aesthetes may not have cause to care.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Lawrence of Arabia.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)
Directed and written by Mamoru Oshii
Produced by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Toshio Suzuki, Maki Terashima-Furuta
Starring Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Tamio Oki, Yutaka Nakano, Naoto Takenaka, Atsuko Tanaka
With Major Kusanagi's evolutionary evanescence a few years behind them, her sometime governmental intelligence department investigates a series of murders committed by prototypal domestic androids -- who wipe their own brains and self-destruct after executing their assigned keepers -- when police officers and a politician fall victim to these inexplicable recurrences. Wizened section chief Aramaki (Oki) pairs strapping cyborg Bato (Otsuka) with whilom police detective Togusa (Yamadera) to probe the robots' manufacturer and a possible connection with a Yakuza subdivision, leading them from Niihama's seediest districts to a crumbling Chinese urban stretch of data integration firms. Fans familiar with Oshii's broody, solemnly philosophic cinematic adaptation of Shirow's playful manga know what to expect from its sequel, though its synthesis of action and introspection are hardly as balanced or effective as that of the prior picture. Bato's waned morose during the lengthy absence of his vanished superior, and his persiflage with colleagues is consequently as sardonic as his manner's withdrawn -- a plausible but terribly unengaging development for this series' most waggish character. In his interpretation of themes and scenarios derived from the first manga series' sixth and tenth issues, Oshii's strayed too far from Shirow's jocularity and technical preoccupations to focus on matters ontological. Section 9's personnel and a few of their suspects indifferently reference and quote Milton and Confucius, Saito and Weber, Shelley and Daiyuu, Buddha and Plato...but even the most acute apercus filtered through secondhand philosophy can't compensate for Oshii's recent inability to script compelling or realistic dialogue; exposition and expatiation are too often substituted for conversation rather than integrated as marrow therein. Nowhere is such claptrap so insufferably pretentious as when uttered by a smugly effete forensic analyst who propounds the transhumanist twaddle of the supremely pontifical feminist sociologist Donna Haraway while interviewed by the protagonal agents. Still, Oshii's Gordian plotting and associated visual devices are delightfully clever, and many of his best hallmarks are present: striking photic effects, detailed backgrounds, and those lovable basset hounds. Animation beautifully rendered via cel and CG mesh at least so well here as in the first flick, but shots exclusively composed of computer graphics clash slightly less in collocation than those of the Golgo 13 feature from 1983, and while their depiction of vehicular and architectural subjects shine, natural phenomena are far less adequately imaged. Kenji Kawai's music includes some fine ambience, but none of it's as haunting as any single track from the first GitS score, and his main theme is but a wan, wearisome reprise of that from the preceding suite. For all its superbly realized violence and insight, Oshii's drably sober conception of Shirow's series seems too often a vehicle to explore his own idees fixes pertaining to the correlative and emblematic nexus of organisms and artifices, death and disposability, societies and networks -- and for all these characters' ruminations regarding the nature of existence, too little humanity's in evidence before the third act.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Ghost in the Shell.
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Written by Roberto Saviano, Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Roberto Saviano
Produced by Domenico Procacci, Laura Paolucci
Starring Salvatore Abbruzzese, Toni Servillo, Salvatore Cantalupo, Simone Sacchettino, Ciro Petrone, Marco Macor, Gianfelice Imparato, Vincenzo Fabricino
Iniquities reverberate throughout Neapolitan quarries, littorals and rookeries in this categorically unromantic adaptation of Saviano's sedulously researched Camorran crime novel, embodying five stories concerning an aging bursar (Imparato) whose peripatetic remitments expose him to escalating peril during a gang war, a teenage grocery boy (Abbruzzese) whose want for induction to a crime family similarly endangers him, the marginalization that compels an expert tailor (Cantalupo) who designs indistinguishable postiches of haute couture to surreptitiously instruct Chinese laborers for a considerable fee and heretofore unyielded appreciation of his talent, a seemingly legitimate service managed by a mob insider (Servillo) who negotiates bottom rates with manufacturing firms to dispose of their toxic waste in spent quarries and other excavations, and the violent petty thefts committed by a pair of susceptible yet audacious street punks (Macor, Petrone) in the territory of a mob boss (Carlo Del Sorbo) whose patience for their recurring and asinine effrontery is ultimately exhausted. Fine photography shot on location and portrayals of naturalistic excellence maximize the realism of felonious enterprise depicted and all its collateral calamities, to the exhilaration of which its youngest participants are addicted and by which its eldest are either irked or terrorized. Saviano and Garrone have redirected the popular focus regarding organized crime from cause to consequence, patefying a mortal toll viciously extorted in squalid Scampia as a wage horribly paid for the contamination of its blood, soil and souls.
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Produced by Jim Booth, Peter Jackson, Hanno Huth
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Diana Kent, Sarah Peirse, Simon O'Connor, Clive Merrison, Jed Brophy
Most B-moviemakers don't transition to mainstream fare with the daring patent in Jackson's breakout feature, but this dramatization of a matricide adapted from the murderess's diary that scandalized placid postwar Christchurch emanates the colorful ambition of its star director. In their pristine secondary school, a pair of overachieving eccentrics bond over their respective infirmities, imaginary transports, shared fixations and hateful insubordination. The wealthy, insolent British hysteric's (Winslet) vividly schizophrenic imagination exceeds and influences that of her moping loner (Lynskey), whose modest middle-class household both mortifies her and consolidates their mutual fealty. Spirited, sinful fantasies derived from royal histories and popular culture synthesize into their private mythos fashioned in sand and plasticine and illusion as their inhibitions and familial relations deteriorate pari passu, and their stark remove from reality redounds to murder all too casually. Juggling fantasy and drama handily, Jackson's realization of the wayward girls' chimeras, schemes and nympholepsy balances zeal with eye-popping practical and digital SFX. Neither these nor the accomplished secondary players dwarf the radiance of the erst unknown leads, acting their hearts out as the lunatic twosome whose preoccupancy of shared beauty and budding romance gradually sheds morality to the favor of their profligacy. In a style evolved from that of his independent pictures that anticipates his Tolkien epics, Jackson emphasizes exuberance with sweeping Steadicam, crane and aerial shots. Alas, the attractive production is drizzled with a dash of surplus treacle, but how better could one communicate the alternately brutal and adoring mawkishness of this concerted pathology?
Illegally Yours (1988)
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Max Dickens, Michael Kaplan
Produced by Peter Bogdanovich, George Morfogen, Steve Foley, William Pfeiffer, Peggy Robertson
Starring Rob Lowe, Colleen Camp, Kim Myers, Louise Stratten, Ira Heiden, Marshall Colt, Linda MacEwen, Harry Carey Jr., Jessica James, Kenneth Mars, Howard Hirdler, Tony Longo
For whoever can countenance Dante Spinotti's unexplainably shoddy photography, a few tackily tiresome tunes composed for Johnny Cash by Bogdanovich and Cash's perennial collaborator Earl Poole Ball, and hastily yattered, wholly superfluous narration, this slight yet feisty farce sports a stack of amusive antics, despite its representation of the embattled cineaste's return to his professional doldrums after the unqualified success of Mask. A surprisingly comic Lowe stumbles, stammers, goggles and flails through a rash of cockamamie contretemps as an ungainly, lovelorn juror in the trial of his juvenile crush, a belligerently dyspeptic peripatetic saleswoman (Camp) of cable television services wrongly arraigned for the murder of a millionaire's aide, and unwittingly in possession of an audiocassette containing exculpatory evidence coveted by her loquacious sometime swain (Colt), his lover and the wife (MacEwen) of the victim's wealthy employer (Mars) who accidentally committed the crime, and a pair of inefficient hitmen (Hirdler, Longo) contracted to terminate the deceased, all of whom are in turn mysteriously surveilled by a gawking, venturous collegial duo (Myers, Stratten). Notwithstanding its many flaws, this crime comedy's salvaged by practiced players, a pace as brisk as the multitude of car chases that punctuate its dense and involving assorted plots, and possibly the best pratfall executed for a major motion picture in the past thirty years. Likely flummoxed by its bewildering voice-over, audiences eschewed this slightly underrated travesty all but disavowed by Bogdanovich himself, but its interesting narrative convolutions and vigorous hilarity justify a modicum of reserved reappraisal.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Big Trouble.
The Innkeepers (2011)
Directed and written by Ti West
Produced by Ti West, Peter Phok, Derek Curl, Larry Fessenden, Greg Newman, Badie Ali, Hamza Ali, Malik B. Ali
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, George Riddle
To Ti West's detractors, he's a talented but tedious aesthete indulging his cinematic visions in jejune abuse of the horror genre; to his small and swelling fan base, he's it's last great Anglophone hope during the decrement of Hollywood's remake trend and a vacancy of quality American horror flicks. Any cursory screening of his oeuvre seems to falsify either opinion: West's output is too capably crafted and ultimately underwhelming, and this story of two trifling clerks (Paxton, Healy) who investigate their storied old hotel's putative phantoms during the final days anteceding its closure personifies its ambitious director/author/editor's artistry and failings. Splatter aficionados haven't patience for such prolonged deliberation, nor have connoisseurs of the psychological idioms plied by Polanski or Kurosawa for comedic elements in such plenty. Nathless, this is a filmmaker almost alone among his western contemporaries who appreciates the power of performance, oracularity, location and fundamental craft, staging each scene with smoothly restrained technique and provoking from his stars finely unflattering interpretations -- especially Paxton, no stranger to this fare and physically suiting her graceless role. Most millennials can't overcome their generation's inborn infelicity, but West exploits it cunningly, cognizant that unsympathetic protagonists are more intriguing when imperiled than others appealing. Ironically, "disgusting, quivering mass of horror" Lena Dunham's only appropriate turn to date is realized here in a cameo as an obnoxiously garrulous barista; was she in on the joke? Despite persisting distractions by Jeff Grace's palatable yet overapplied score, Graham Reznick's superlative sound design contributes nearly so much as West's visuals to his picture's redoubtable miasma, and the latter raises a few great chills and scares in the confines of a Pennsylvanian inn locally infamous for its reputed hauntings. He works a few frightful wonders, but during a feature's span of 100 minutes, he ought have done more.
Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)
Directed by Frank Pavich
Produced by Frank Pavich, Travis Stevens, Stephen Scarlata, Damon Cook, Alex Ricciardi, Michel Seydoux, Donald Rosenfeld
Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, Chris Foss, Jean-Paul Gibon, Devin Faraci, Amanda Lear, H.R. Giger, Gary Kurtz, Diane O'Bannon, Nicolas Winding Refn, Jean-Pierre Vignau, Christian Vander, Drew McWeeny
When you've declined Douglas Trumbull's expertise for his vainglory and lack of spiritual depth, upbraided Pink Floyd for gobbling hamburgers while you were expounding on your cinematic conceptions, assigned Salvador Dalí an imperious role for which he's to be paid $100K per hour and insisted that your sprawling adaptation of Frank Herbert's science fiction epic treating of rival interstellar cultures warring for a sui generis resource must span twelve to twenty hours, don't expect to realize it. Not one frame of Jodorowsky's bizarre pet project -- purposed as a hallucinatory alternative to LSD and a prophetic meditation on the ultimate potential of incorporeal transcendence -- was shot, but one of two handsome, humongous, hardbound volumes containing the totality of its script, storyboards and conceptual artwork printed to pitch it to American studio executives remains one of the surrealist filmmaker's prized chattels, wherein the ossature of his vision in toto is preserved and explored in this compelling documentary. Conspectuses of Jodo's ascension to early repute in avant-garde theater, the adventitious conception and production of Fando y Lis (during which his inspiration served to compensate for his professional inexperience), and the unprecedented underground triumph of his satirical, symbolical western El Topo preface for the uninitiated Jodorowsky's initial achievements, that last of which attracted the attention of Seydoux, who distributed first El Topo, then the bricoleur's metaphysical masterwork The Holy Mountain to zealously receptive French audiences. An enduring friendship between the Chilean dynamo and his French benefactor persisted to the present, years after the former's swindle of his prior producer, Allen Klein (a misdeed unmentioned in this flick). Encouraged by both Jodo's accomplishment and the unexcelled international success of his selected subject matter, Seydoux eagerly agreed to produce a motion picture of Herbert's Byzantine saga, quartering his alacritous auteur in a French castle while he lucubrated its screenplay. Jodorowsky's gift for identifying and locating his collaborators may be demonstrated by the fortuity accompanying many of their first encounters: on the strength of his artwork in the serialized western Blueberry comic books, peerless sequential/commercial artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud was designated to sketch storyboards of over 3,000 shots and render vividly detailed character designs; during a screening of John Carpenter's and Dan O'Bannon's joint first picture (the penurious space comedy Dark Star), O'Bannon was reckoned by Jodo kindred, enthralled by his palaver and ingestion of recherche marijuana, and assigned a position as the picture's SFX supervisor; the phantasmagoria of British conceptual painter Chris Foss were often superior to the books for whose covers they were masterfully pictured, so he seemed as fitting a contributing artist to image outlandish spacecraft and edifices as H.R. Giger, commissioned to delineate with airbrushed intricacy Jodorowsky's unique contrivance of Baron Harkonnen's castle, predicated on Giraud's storyboards. They first met at the St. Regis hotel in NYC, and frequently thenceforth, but Jodo only prevailed upon Dalí to create the Padishah Emperor by the liaison of the Catalan painter's muse Amanda Lear, to whom he granted the role of Princess Irulan for her mediatory efforts. No small contemplation was invested to cast and score both of the novel's rival aristocratic families. His stardom in Kung Fu secured David Carradine prominence as a gelded Duke Leto; Jodo's son Brontis was to portray the messianic central figure of the Atreides scion Paul, and subjected for two years to an operose regimen by martial artist and stunt coordinator Jean-Pierre Vignau so to acquire the martial skill befitting Muad'Dib; Pink Floyd's meditative resonance seemed a choice aural backdrop for the seafaring family. To one of his preferred Parisian restaurants where he waxed epulose, Jodo's secretary tracked Orson Welles, whose famed obesity and iconic mastery convinced him that no other could play Baron Harkonnen...and who was eventually propitiated with a bottle of wine and a pledge that one of his favorite chefs would prepare his meals on set or location during the production's shoot; at a party, Mick Jagger immediately, compulsively accepted Jodo's offer to play lean, swaggering Feyd Rautha, and Udo Kier was met at Warhol's Factory to receive the part of Piter De Vries, the post-Teutonic clan's chief Mentat; no strangers to dystopian fantasy, Magma were picked to generate a sonic aspect of the Harkonnens' miasma. With no deficit of politesse, every major studio solicited for subvention by producers Seydoux and Gibon -- Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, etc. -- rejected this interpretation of Dune, conceding their admiration for the endeavor's fastidious conception...and bewilderment regarding its director's demands in concern of length and thematic complexity. Pavich wisely focuses on his subjects' accounts of this grand failure, and interlarded with demonstrative animations of Giraud's storyboards and Foss's paintings, interviews with and recordings of Lear, O'Bannon, Seydoux, Gibon, Vignau, Foss, Giger, and especially Jodorowsky graphically report his visionary divergences from Herbert's novel, charismatic inspiration of his cast and crew, and the immense creative potential that was never fulfilled beyond preproduction. Supplementary commentary by sci-fi filmmaker Richard Stanley and producer Gary Kurtz (whose last endeavors with George Lucas owe an enormous conceptual debt to this undertaking) provide converse perspective on the picture's abortion; overt observations and hoary hyperbole voiced by overestimated genre moviemaker Nicolas Winding Refn and overfed Twitter jackass and alleged film critic Devin Faraci contribute nothing of worth to this history, and seem oddly incongruous with Jodorowsky himself, a born raconteur and still ebullient in his ninth decade. Despite its cancellation, the influence of Jodo's Dune reverberated for years in the composition, production design and thematic signification of many motion pictures: storyboards and production photos are juxtaposed with shots of unmistakable similarity from Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Golan-Globus' Masters of the Universe, Contact, Prometheus and especially Alien, for whose efforts O'Bannon, Giger, Foss and Moebius were indispensable. Therewithal, most of Jodorowsky's best concepts were hardly squandered, instead exploited in superb comics such as The Incal in collaboration with Moebius, and The Metabarons with Juan Giménez. One can't help but speculate whether the creative profusion of this scuttled Dune was worth more than the picture might have been.
Last Embrace (1979)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Murray Teigh Bloom, David Shaber
Produced by Dan Wigutow, Michael Taylor, John Nicolella
Starring Roy Scheider, Janet Margolin, Sam Levene, John Glover, Charles Napier
His nerves were frayed and instincts addled upon discharge from the sanitarium where a federal agent (Scheider) was committed after his wife was slain by a mafioso, but as the recipient of a Hebraic death threat enscribed in ancient Aramaic, he's constrained to trace a trail of kosher corpses, none of which reflect any immediate connection save for their shared receipt of the literatim death threat. Relieved by a pretty anthropology student (Margolin) quartered in his apartment during his absence and an aging Yiddish investigator (Levene) dispatched by a cabalistic committee, the traumatized widower is too far from his truth and close to the culprit to ascertain either. With an ambitious avidity characteristic of the advancing auteur, Demme flaunted his future hallmarks of convincing red herrings, clever segues and extreme close-ups more skillfully than in his most successful pictures, and they harmonize with the attractive pans, startling perspective shots, cunning prefiguration and famed locations implemented in imitation of Britain's nonpareil of cinematic suspense. Fine pastiches of Hitchcock's corpus abound, but most emulate Hitch's technique in abstention of his pathos; in a celebration of Old Hollywood's romance, Demme boldly embraced that outmoded poignancy in his blighted venture to revive it for the most cynical audiences who ever patronized American theaters. Scheider was always plausible as a pseudo-Jew, and the leathery lead's powerful at his ubiquitous pinnacle: sinew taut and resolve steely as the harrowed G-man, generating a blaze with genuine Ashki Margolin, who's still stunning at the threshold of her middle age and a fit match for her co-star. She radiates as much hammily irrepressible charm in contrast as sensuous vulnerability enfolded to Scheider's straight man; more roles so apropos might have elevated and sustained her career. Levene also renders some solid comic relief by banter with Scheider's foil, and Glover's as perfectly apt as a bookish linguistics professor. A few good cameos complement the cast: Christopher Walken carps creepily as a clandestine section supervisor, Joe Spinell's unmistakably garish as a mobster, and a briefly conspicuous David Margulies appears as an affable rabbi. None of this picture's elements so vividly kindle the heart and soul of its influences as Miklós Rózsa's score, the neo-romantic swells of which recall his music for Spellbound and Hermann's most lachrymose works in collaboration with Hitchcock. This was unfortunately yet another of United Artists' many flops antecedent to the disaster of Heaven's Gate that drove Transamerica from the film industry, but its failure was ineluctable. By adapting Bloom's The 13th Man in emulation of The Master, Demme and Shaber might've remembered that many of his best tragedies were in their day no more appealing to the public.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Body Heat.
Manon 70 (1968)
Directed by Jean Aurel
Written by Abbé Prévost, Jean Aurel, Cécil Saint-Laurent
Produced by Robert Dorfmann, Yvon Guézel, Luggi Waldleitner
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Sami Frey, Jean-Claude Brialy, Robert Webber, Elsa Martinelli
Transposed to chic, swinging '60s Paris, this slightly torpid yet titillating umpteenth adaptation of Prévost's classic fabular novella Manon Lescaut portrays the pursuit of a cosmopolitan bon vivant (Deneuve) by a handsome, sportive news correspondent (Frey) who wins her heart, but not her troth; addicted to her luxe lifestyle, the unscrupulous beauty will bed any man of means to maintain it, and her promiscuity piques his irascibility like an open flame to a dynamite fuse. Perchance the most listless treatment of this narrative, Aurel's mode here nearly effects sporadic longueur, its finest moments contingent on the considerable charisma of its gorgeous stars and settings. However, his conference of drollery and a perversely modern prurience to this story while dispensing with its tragic conclusion is laudably elegant; a less able filmmaker (as King or Brass) would surely have contrived something approximating dopey softcore porn of a tawdry or soppy mold. Ever debonaire, Brialy steals his every scene as Deneuve's opportunistic sibling, whose ingratiating cajolery and chicanery coaxes her transient lovers almost as effectually as her enticements. Magnificent orchestral and chamber standards by Vivaldi and a couple of groovy tunes courtesy of Gainsbourg sublime the ambience of this flick's admittedly trifling proceedings. For languid summer beach parties, this is the picture of choice.
Le mans (1971)
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Written by Harry Kleiner
Produced by Jack N. Reddish, Alan Levine, Robert E. Relyea
Starring Steve McQueen, Elga Andersen, Siegfried Rauch, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Christopher Waite, Fred Haltiner, Louise Edlind, Luc Merenda
At least so much a document of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970 as a human drama, this pet project of its superstar leading man and semi-professional racer finds McQueen as a contender in the "Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency," vying with a frequent German rival (Rauch) and haunted by the death of an Italian competitor a year earlier to whose widow (Andersen) he gravitates mutually. At Katzin's behest, DPs René Guissart Jr. and Robert B. Hauser cunningly shot their principal footage from profuse prospects and panoramas during and after the actual event at its picturesque Circuit de la Sarthe, commencing with exhaustive establishing shots of and about the venue, its shoaling spectators, correspondents, medical facilities, pit lanes, sprawling parking lots, a police detail assigned to security and cramped traffic en route to the race. No conversational dialogue's uttered during the first half-hour, when industrious preparation by pit crews and drivers alike culminates to a gripping depiction of the standing start exclusive to the '70 race. During breathers while their alternates race, a Swiss driver (Haltiner) of Porsche's team moots the prospect of retirement in discourse with his wife (Edlind), Andersen and McQueen reflect on the sport's hazards and personal significance, and journalists probe their subjects for ancillary insights. Otherwise, the true stars here are sleekly swift Porsche 917s, Ferrari 512s and their functional mock-ups streaking across the circuit's lengthy straights. On a track that's claimed no few lives, numerous shunts were spectacularly staged and meticulously cut with intermittent slow-motion effects to evoke crashers' disoriented kinestheses and emphasize a looming, treacherous, often fatal facet of automotive racing. Close-ups of the drivers and blistering first-person vistas from their cramped seats afford indispensable outlooks adjunct to ample exteriors, along with gorgeous nocturnal shots punctuated by dazzling headlights, periodically accompanied by Michel Legrand's jazzily jaunty and emotively orchestral music. Like many fine pictures pertaining to marginal sports, McQueen's and Katzin's venture suffered commercial failure in '71, but has since found favor in a cult audience including gearheads, racing enthusiasts and McQueen's fans, whose appreciation of its authenticity and technique fortify its preeminence as a nonesuch of auto racing cinema.
Little Big Man (1970)
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Thomas Berger, Calder Willingham
Produced by Stuart Millar, Gene Lasko
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan, Faye Dunaway, Jeff Corey, Martin Balsam, Thayer David, Robert Little Star, Aimee Eccles
To a haughty historian, a centenarian (Hoffman) recounts a series of escapades and misadventures ensuing his pioneer family's slaughter by Pawnee marauders, his adoption by and acculturation to a Cheyenne tribe and eventual reclamation to white society, wherein he's a unique anomaly. A dear rapport with the chief (George) and tribe who raised the talented nebbish is contrasted often against his varied associations with a blusteringly pietistic reverend (David) and his gorgeous, goatish wife (Dunaway), one glibly inveterate mountebank (Balsam) who suffers amputations by requital for the sale of his noisome nostrums, famed gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok (Corey), and dashing, opaque, cruelly imperious Gen. George Custer (Mulligan), here disbosomed a villain by Berger's and Willingham's modern revisionism. Navigating both tribal and post-European cultures in frequent alternation, Hoffman's nomad observes with his audience the eccentricities, vices and hypocrisies of both, as well as the slow, sorrowful genocide of the Cheyenne committed by the U.S. Army and their Pawnee rivals. Poignant, exciting and uproarious, Penn's picaresque western benefits tremendously from first-rate comic performance and Hal Needham's choreography, but the director maladroitly melds tragedy and farce in a manner that occasionally negatives the impact of either. This condemnation of bloodthirsty overreach in the age of Manifest Destiny hasn't the appeal of Leone's, Peckinpah's and Hill's classics depicting the old west's disappearance a year or two preceding, but it's worth revisiting for its mirth and gravity, as well as the senile makeup by which Hoffman was transformed into an ancient remnant of a history aggrieved by its hecatombs.
Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Written by Chiaki Konaka
Produced by Mikihiko Hirata, Kenzo Horikoshi, Atsuko Ono, Tsukasa Ariyoshi, Takashi Horikoshi, Yoshiyasu Ikezaki, Hiroo Murakami, Fumio Sebata
Starring Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita, Miho Ninagawa, Kazuhiro Nakahara
Fascinated by a suicide he shot offhand with a news crew, a freelance cameraman and voyeur (Tsukamoto) returns to the crime scene to locate the source of the deceased's (Nakahara) horror, descending into Tokyo's underground depths to a sprawling, mountainous subterranean expanse where he discovers before adopting a feral beauty (Miyashita) whose subsistence exacts his progressive trespasses. As Tsukamoto's anomic videographer explores the substrata of both his environment and psyche to slake a curiosity that's subverted his instincts, Konaka's introspective narrative postulates the nature of terror, morality and sanity as subjective to individual perception. Shimizu's budget video production's a cut above his medial standard; less goofily stridulous foley and fewer cliched devices and dissolves would've meliorated what's otherwise an effectively photographed and performed project. A picture straddling fantasy and psychological horror, it's certainly worth viewing for its most Lovecraftian outlooks.
Nocturnal Uproar (1979)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Pierre Sayag
Starring Dominique Laffin, Bertrand Bonvoisin, Daniel Langlet, Dominique Basquin, Bruno Devoldère, Bruno Grimaldi, Joe Dallesandro, Marie-Hélène Breillat
In her sultry sophomore undertaking, Breillat's again incarnate as her heroine, a pretty, pettish, dedicatedly labile budding filmmaker (Laffin) who revels in promiscuity whilst rationalizing her megrims...until she falls hard for a rugged roue (Bonvoisin) whose insouciance and aversion to commitment scuttle her wanton M.O. From an intellectualization of the irrational and aphrodisiacal, Breillat embodied the integral personal archetype inchoate in her first flick: lovable, insufferable beauties who she'd exploit in subsequent works through the early aughts. Singular even among her compatriots, she plumbs the chafing, ephemeral niches when the erotic and erratic concur, and the irrepressible salacity of her scenarios and characters are sure to gratify both her fans and enthusiasts of carnal cinema. During her tragically truncated career, Laffin enjoyed but a few meaty parts that she represented with vehement verisimilitude, and she's as pertly beguiling here as she'd ever be. Appearances by Dallesandro and lovely Marie-Hélène are regrettably curtailed, but Serge Gainsbourg's infectious rock score redresses their shortage.
Recommended for a double feature paired with A Real Young Girl (see below).
The Parallax View (1974)
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Written by Loren Singer, David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Robert Towne
Produced by Alan J. Pakula, Robert Jiras, Charles H. Maguire, Gabriel Katzka
Starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels, Paula Prentiss, Walter McGinn, Kelly Thordsen, Earl Hindman, Chuck Waters
During three years sequent to the public murder of a rogue presidential candidate in Seattle's Space Needle, six seemingly quotidian deaths befall witnesses to the hit, adjudged a deranged happenstance by a congressional committee. Before the seventh claims a televised reporter (Prentiss) who conducted the slain campaigner's last interview, she essays to solicit the succor of her sometime boyfriend, a temerarious investigative newswriter (Beatty) whose inquiry disbosoms a string of murders and a private agency's recruitment of assassins whose viability is determined by analysis of conformity to especially aggressive sociopathic psych profiles. Singer's was the most unnerving and notional of the novels adapted to Pakula's filmic paranoia trilogy, inspired by the continual rash of prominent political executions that scandalized the postwar United States and the Warren Commission's dubious conclusions. This third entry's shot and cut with some austere nuance, mayhap the finest exhibition of his artistry: creepier during its tense lulls than upon each in a succession of brutal disclosures, the picture's intrigues radiate a discountenancing miasma foreshadowing the latter that's only relaxed during a few superbly executed action scenes. Prettily rugged Beatty plays his becoming role with a method conviction shared by the supporting cast, but he's upstaged in two scenes by Daniels, who exudes dread with mesmerizing understatement as the dead candidate's quondam campaign manager. Parallax's centerpiece is a photographic montage of creeping portent screened for assassinative prospects presenting pastoral, familial, erotic, criminal and belligerent images in progressively perverse and fleet contrast purposed to pique the pathology of a natural killer; indisputably dated, its potency is scarcely attenuate over four decades later -- a commendable feat for a filmmaker whose most striking devices were so often inexpensive. Pakula's trilogy's predicated on a burden emphasizing some variety of connivance that inflames disquiet. Most of the best witnesses to a crime scene are those most proximate; here, the observers of a historic hit are too close to notice.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Three Days of the Condor.
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Catherine Breillat, Maurice Pialat, Sylvie Pialat, Jacques Fieschi
Produced by Emmanuel Schlumberger, Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau, Richard Anconina, Jonathan Leïna, Sandrine Bonnaire, Franck Karoui, Pascale Rocard, Jacques Mathou
Depardieu registers far more of his characteristic charm than brutish menace as a gregarious, obtrusive inspector who falls as hard as concrete for the coolly opportunistic girlfriend (Marceau) of a Tunisian narcotics smuggler (Leïna) plying a dicey, lucrative trade with his four brothers. With DP Luciano Tovoli, Pialat beautifully presents a photogenic cast from whom he elicits prime performances, especially his superstar leads and fresh, fledgling Bonnaire as a friendly fille de joie whose kindly temperament is apposed in contrast to the shrewd stratagems of Marceau's uncaring layabout, or a personable criminal lawyer (Anconina) who mixes with flics and felons alike to exploit both with unexpectedly treacherous consequences. Breillat later explored similar characters and scenarios in Dirty Like an Angel to reveal vulnerability beneath the tough superfices of interrogation and procedure that excite lovesick and callous idiosyncrasies proceeding from privation, but this collaboration with Pialat also postulates that neither French police nor the Arab criminals they pursued during the Fifth Republic's zenith were either as detestable or reasonable as most might expect.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Dirty Like an Angel (see above).
Directed by Gordon Parks
Written by Ernest Tidyman, John D.F. Black
Produced by Joel Freeman, Roger H. Lewis, David Golden, Ernest Tidyman, Stirling Silliphant
Starring Richard Roundtree, Charles Cioffi, Moses Gunn, Christopher St. John, Gwenn Mitchell
Silliphant, Lewis, et al. were wise to work the Blaxploitation trend at its inception without overproducing this infamously gritty crime drama, in which the tough, eponymous Harlem P.I. (Roundtree) is employed to locate the kidnapped daughter of an aging crime lord (Gunn) with the abetment of a black power gang's honcho (St. John) and a sympathetic police detective (Cioffi) who affords him an absurd measure of liberty. Through Parks' keen eye, sweeping pans, picturesque tracking, irruptive zooms and striking overhead establishing shots magnify venereal and investigatory montages just as well as a few cleverly concocted action sequences in squalid slums all too familiar to the masterly photojournalist. Most of the pic's appeal hinges on Roundtree, all surly sinew and sex appeal in the lead, and it's just as well: his enormous presence almost obscures that of his co-stars. Issac Hayes' celebrated, superbly arranged score is its other indispensable ingredient, still funkily appealing in its playful audacity 45 years later. Certainly the lesser of his two scripts successfully adapted to the screen in '71, Tidyman's trickishly plotted story only ages so well: his dialogue's as dated as the decor, though its antiquation's countervailed by credible delivery. For a crudely cut exploitation picture intended for consumption by a target audience of young black men, Parks' most enduring feature is not only broadly entertaining, but easily the best of its genre...and a vivid snapshot of Harlem's squalor decades anteceding its gentrification.
Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
Directed and written by John Carpenter
Produced by Richard Kobritz, Anna Cottle
Starring Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Grainger Hines
Unsolicited, progressively suggestive gifts purported as promotional items delivered by a travel agency accompanied by menacing phone calls aren't the sorts of romantic overtures for which a television station's glamorous program director (Hutton) might've hoped when she relocated from NYC to her posh luxury apartment in Los Angeles. Her composure's corraded by a stalker surveilling her with a powerful telescope and hidden bug until she enlists the aid of her apt production manager (Barbeau) and unruffled, professorial new boyfriend (Birney) to investigate her agitator as his advances escalate to murderous intent. Helmed with Hitchcockian pizazz by Carpenter months prevenient to the Halloween shoot, this televised umpteenth homage to The Master is essentially an inverse Rear Window replete with its bright, breathy lead, impuissant police investigator (Cyphers) and wireframe animation accompanying opening credits (evocatively imitative of Saul Bass's NXNW introduction) that dissolves to a described establishing shot. It's as tightly and cunningly composed as any of his most renowned flicks, and Carpenter enhances his script of modest ingenuity with considerable creepy devices at a painstaking pace evidencing a prowess that's twice regrettably negated by the brazen swells of Harry Sukman's overbearingly timeworn score; one can't help but wonder just how much better this could've been if Carpenter -- also a composer who's always appreciated the petrifying potential of silence -- had time and liberty to score his scenes. His cast's every bit as competent: in her prime, Hutton's a combatively appealing lead whose charisma's occasionally overshadowed by the charm of the auteur's future spouse, and both Birney and frequent collaborator Cyphers are unobtrusively fine, if typecast. If it's the least of Carpenter's early pictures, this derivative teleplay still patefies the idiosyncratic quality of his craftsmanship.
Recommended for a double feature paired with When a Stranger Calls.
The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993)
Directed and written by Eric Rohmer
Produced by Françoise Etchegaray
Starring Pascal Greggory, Clémentine Amouroux, Fabrice Luchini, Arielle Dombasle, Galaxie Barbouth, François-Marie Banier, Michel Jaouen, Jessica Schwing
What for a Costa-Gavras or Loach might seem paradoxical was for Rohmer congruent: his most political feature's also among his lightest, contextualized in seven parts of as many crucial consiliences from which its plot proceeds. To promote education, entertainment and his career after a loss in a regional election, a benign socialist mayor (Greggory) more familiar with the lush, beauteous botany of his rural town than his own constituents designs to fund the construction of a cultural and sporting complex incorporating a library, theater, pool, record retail outlet and expo center. His unexpected obstacles include a grand old white willow scheduled for extirpation upon the projected building site, and its most clamant champion, a feisty, irate, emphatically apolitical schoolteacher (Luchini) intractably opposed to this scheme. A penetrative magazine editor (Amouroux) dubious of both men interviews all of the town's involved and affected parties, and finds herself stymied less by corruption than limits of pagination and journalistic virtue. Equally unimpressed, the mayor's contentious (though hardly eristical) girlfriend (Dombasle), a Parisian novelist dedicated to urbanism, courts companionable contestation with everyone, especially her swain. As stalwart an environmentalist as a Catholic, Rohmer cunningly conferred to these characters his own convictions or their antitheses: Luchini's preceptor elaborates the veteran cineaste's antipathy for industrial encroachment, the environmental taint generated by automotive proliferation and the sprawl of freeways, and logistical inefficiencies engendered by the enforcement of global trade, while Greggory's mayor disdains Parisian centralization of culture and aspires to revitalize his pastoral home. Ironically, both men suspect one another of base motives -- the excitable educator colligates his grievances into erroneous speculation that urbanist's ambitions incite his phytolophilic mayor, who in turn surmises the teacher may be a pawn of a disgruntled green faction -- without imagining the actuality of their kindred sensibilities. Bucolics of Saint-Juire-Champgillon such as farmers, a shopkeeper and a toller interviewed by Amouroux in character respond with a charming provincial candor that fortifies this production's verisimilitude and furnishes insight into the lifestyle and ethos of the French rustic. As always, Rohmer inspires in his cast exceeding performance in the enactment of his script's attic monologues and exchanges. Beyond matters aesthetic, architectural or ecological expounded throughout, the laudable subtexts that validate Rohmer's political maturity are those that doomed this picture to international obscurity, affirming that even local politics present more problems than solutions, and that neither national nor individual character can be resolved with an inhuman ideological dichotomy.
The Trouble with Harry (1955)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Jack Trevor Story, John Michael Hayes
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock, Herbert Coleman
Starring Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, Jerry Mathers, Royal Dano, Dwight Marfield, Philip Truex, Barry Macollum
He's quite dead, and an eventual onus upon nearly all the denizens of a rural town who happen upon him: a venturesome little boy (Mathers), both an affable, retired marine captain (Gwenn) convinced that he accidentally greased the corpse and the genteel spinster (Natwick) sweet for him, the deceased's unflappably feisty widow (MacLaine) relieved by his quietus, a distrait physician and bookworm (Marfield), one hobo (Macollum) who relieves the cadaver (Truex) of his footwear and an ostentatious artist (Forsythe) whose largess is only matched and motivated by his curiosity. American audiences a half-century ago didn't cotton to the drollery of cunning jest and repeated inhumations in Hitchcock's sable farce, but its dry balance of tender grace and gallows humor mark this romp as one of his better middling pics. Deceit recedes as romance blooms among the quirky quartet composing Harry's informal cortege as they cope with his corpse under suspicion of a gormless, meddlesome deputy sheriff and gearhead (Dano) in an uncharacteristically understated and smartly played production highlighted by the pastoral beauty of autumnal Vermont and one of Hermann's most hauntingly playful scores -- the first of his most fruitful collaboration. Perhaps no more popular for its deadpan modesty now than upon its release, this Trouble is still worth screening for any fond of jet-black comedy, and necessarily required viewing for The Master's fans.
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Gerald Petievich, William Friedkin
Produced by Irving H. Levin, Bud S. Smith, Samuel Schulman
Starring William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, Darlanne Fluegel, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell, Michael Greene
Multitudinous minor mistakes mar this energetic thriller of a gutsy Secret Service agent's (Petersen) endeavor to apprehend a truculent counterfeiter (Dafoe) by means licit and otherwise. Friedkin proved himself as technically adept as ever during his unwarranted losing streak, sustaining his reputation as a rival to Peckinpah by his virtuoso implementation of chase scenes afoot -- as Petersen and his relatively trepid partner (Pankow) pursue a wily bagman (Turturro) in LAX and other abettors in alleys and bridges -- and automotive in collaboration with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker, as they evade unidentified assailants through one of L.A.'s sprawling industrial districts in a breathless sequence shot with dash to match his famed train chase in The French Connection. So too does the New Hollywood veteran put his players through their paces: Petersen's mesmerizing machismo's countered impressively by Dafoe's discomfiting introspection as unscrupulous opponents whose disregard for integrity and unflinching persistence steel them to contend with manifold threats and incumbrances. As the forger's attorney, Stockwell's gravitas serves as ballast for the more dynamic personalities at play, and Feuer and Fluegel shine sultrily as Dafoe's terpsichorean girlfriend and Petersen's informant and periodic slam piece. As vibrantly as those of his collaborations with Wenders, Robby Mueller's photography of grimy Angelean streets and Lilly Kilvert's chic interiors provides an eyeful in every shot; keenly paired with Jerry Trent's and Sam Crutcher's crisp foley, snappy editing by Scott Smith and Wang Chung's percussive cuts, Friedkin sustains momentum splendidly, as during a titular montage introducing key characters and locales and a brilliantly rendered sequence demonstrating the exacting fabrication of sham cash antedating digital methods. Alas, so many great scenes are bookended by a gawky duad: otherwise sharply executed, a prologue during which Petersen and his senior partner (Greene) frustrate the designs of a Palestinian terrorist lapses at its culmination into a clumsy clinker akin to something shot by one of Golan Globus' star directors and butchered in post-production; ulterior to a fiery climax, Pankow's agent assumes his partner's role and temperament to enliven a disappointing denouement wherein Friedkin fails to effect a profound transposition of identity, a flub doubly dreadful in contrast to the equivocal masterstroke with which Cruising was concluded. Furthermore, Petievich and Friedkin's dialogue too often veers from snappy style to footling fustian -- a fault one might rightly impute to scripts by Michael Mann, whose idiom influenced this pic, and who directed Petersen just so well as a heterogeneous investigator in Manhunter a year later.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Thief.
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Will Corry, Rudy Wurlitzer, Floyd Mutrux
Produced by Michael Laughlin, Gary Kurtz
Starring James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird, Warren Oates
During the cultural flux of the '70s' dawn, the twisting tangents of two laconic gearheads -- a driver (Taylor) and mechanic (Wilson) of an ugly yet optimized 1955 custom Chevy -- who subsist on their winnings from drag races legitimate and otherwise converge and coincide awhile with those of a comely, capricious hitchhiker (Bird) and a mendacious, middle-aged braggart (Oates) seeking notice and competition as he oberrates in his cherry '70 G.T.O. If it isn't the deathless classic its cult audience avers, this filmic snapshot of its aimless age is as redolent as any, an immersive dream for motorheads. Stiff delivery from the young amateur leads nearly nullifies their considerable screen presence, so it's just as well that the characterization of their meandering souls convey more silently than explicitly, at least regarding matters that don't pertain to automotive prowess or maintenance. However, Oates is as smashing as ever, toothily charismatic while spouting braggadocio as the huffy mythomaniac who plies prevarication with a conviction concomitant of lust for attention and approbation, a perfect antipode to Bird's pretty drifter, who pines only for whoever won't treat her as a desideratum. Nothing planned within an immediate span comes to fruition for these ramblers of the open road who only reflect the irresolution of their zeitgeist, but no matter: Hellman's direction and editing are so gracefully unobtrusive that his viewers can almost forget they're watching a movie...or that this era of incomparable individualism and prosperity in which automobiles empowered the realization of freedom passed proud and strident decades ago.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Vanishing Point.
Working Girl (1988)
Directed by Mike Nichols
Written by Kevin Wade
Produced by Douglas Wick, Laurence Mark, Robert Greenhut
Starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Philip Bosco, Oliver Platt
Neither commonality of gender nor class guarantee loyalty, a lesson learned hard by a working-class secretary (Griffith) weary of sexual harassment and her career's stagnation under a sleazy stockbroker (Platt); after detonating her post with a prank at his expense, she's reassigned subordinate to an executive virago (Weaver) of her firm's mergers and acquisitions department. Ever-perceptive, the ambitious underling's urged to exploit advantage from simultaneous misfortunes after discovering that her sleazy boyfriend's (Baldwin) cheating on her, and her new supervisor has pilfered a tip of tremendous potential concerning a media acquisition that she proffered. At first opportunity to utilize her lead, she becharms one of her chief's voracious contacts (Ford), whose interest in her isn't limited to their view of a merger. If Nichols' biggest '80s hit hasn't the insight of his early output, it's still as slickly crafted as anything under his direction, skirting farce but indulging the chemistry of a star cast who he employs with some judicious reserve: Weaver's almost absent throughout the flick's second act. George DeTitta Jr.'s interiors starkly contrast Manhattan's opulence with the chintzy squalor of those set in the protagonist's provenance of Staten Island, impersonated in the screaming raiment, garish maquillage and hyper-volumized hair of her best friend (Cusack). Only the music is regrettable: Carly Simon's schmaltzy, celebrated Let the River Run excruciates any discerning audience's ears during the opening and end credits, and insufferably ill-arranged variations of the track composed by Rob Mounsey during which the equine balladeer obnoxiously hums and wails often diverts attention from onscreen activity with a kitschy pomposity entirely incongruous from Nichols' breezy style. Otherwise, it's terrifically enjoyable; if Lifetime routinely screened pictures of this quality, they could triple their viewership of sane humans overnight.
Act of Vengeance (1986)
Directed by John Mackenzie
Written by Trevor Armbrister, Scott Spencer
Produced by Frank Konigsberg, Larry Sanitsky, Jack Clements, Iris Sawyer, Barry Jossen, Jules Schwerin
Starring Charles Bronson, Ellen Burstyn, Wilford Brimley, Robert Schenkkan, Ellen Barkin, Hoyt Axton
Commissioned at the injunction of United Mine Workers incumbent president Tony Boyle, the execution of UMW district president and presidential contender Joseph Yablonski was a powerful catalyst that precipitated comprehensive reforms of his categorically corrupt union and the coal industry alike, and probably deserved a better enactment than this middling televised presentation. Coal miner's scion Bronson is both ethnically and culturally felicitous as Yablonski, and Mackenzie's technical direction is unexceptionally capable, but his guidance of the leading star is demonstrably feckless: Il Brutto acquits himself satisfactorily whenever he isn't struggling to muster exasperation, but his delivery of poorly-scripted commination is amateurishly stilted, years after the likes of Aldrich and Winner aroused memorably livid grit from the screen veteran. Brimley fares faintly better as the fatuously venal Boyle, but can't quite surmount his own schlocky dialogue. Ultimately, the ladies prevail in this thoroughly manful movie; Burstyn lusters as brightly as ever or possible in the confines of her part as Yablonsky's staunch, steady, cultured spouse, and Barkin generates a palpably sleazy sensuality as the sluttish, conniving daughter of a UMWA official who obliges her husband (Schenkkan), a gutless gunsel and house painter who she's cuckolding, to consummate the assassination with palaver and fellation supererogatory beyond his defalcated payment. Apparently intended as black comic relief, the antic ineptitude of Yablonski's murderers is almost risible, especially when Keanu Reeves (in his adorable River's Edge phase) accompanies them as an abettor on their umpteenth visit to dispatch the labor leader. Footage shot in Pittsburgh contributes to the production's realism, as does its modest yet effective period details marred by only a few anachronisms (TV remote controls!). Most disquieting when adumbrating and portraying its protagonist's grisly end, this account would have benefited from more revealing collocations of the union administration's luxuriant lifestyles and those grueling of the proles they profess to represent; what glimpses we're afforded of this contrast infuriate.
Halloween II (1981)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Written by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Produced by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Barry Bernardi, Joseph Wolf, Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad, Dino De Laurentiis
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Dick Warlock, Charles Cyphers, Pamela Susan Shoop, Jeffrey Kramer, Hunter von Leer, Lance Guest
Carpenter and Hill were no slouches as power couples come, producing a few original, indelible contributions to cinematic genre corpora until their divorce and subsequent career divergence propelled them to greater individual successes. Howbeit, this competently crafted yet sluggish sequel to their classic slasher hit won't be recalled as one of their best efforts: their pedestrian script, the score by Carpenter and frequent collaborator Alan Howarth and Rosenthal's perfunctory direction all resound but feeble echoes of the antecedent movie's potent and idiosyncratic horror. Commencing contiguous from the prior pic, lumbering, implacable, inexplicable mass murderer Michael Myers slowly stalks Curtis's effete schoolgirl while amassing a fresh body count, himself pursued by Pleasence's increasingly crazed and prehensile psychiatrist. It should be riveting, but despite a few chillingly grotesque murders, this plot plods pari passu with Myers himself, and the fine cast merely replicates their activity (and in Pleasence's instance, his exposition) of the previous outing. Moreover, a laughably stale consanguine revelation cheaply undermines the antagonist's mystique. It's a tolerable slasher, but by '81, a battalion of flicks glutting the genre created by Clark and popularized by Carpenter were yielding much more intriguing and bloody offerings than this rather limp iteration.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Halloween.
A Real Young Girl (1976)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Guy Azzi, Pierre-Richard Muller, André Génovès
Starring Charlotte Alexandra, Hiram Keller, Bruno Balp, Rita Maiden, Georges Guéret, Shirley Stoler
Misanthropy, sadistic seduction, bodily exploration and esthetic indulgence were still fresh themes for Breillat when she adapted her fourth novel as a drab debut feature to the revulsion of French viewers ere its proscription. On holiday with her stodgily bourgeois parents (Balp, Maiden) at a squalid rural locale, a sulky adolescent (Alexandra) broods idly, swoons over tacky pop songs, hatefully lusts for a hunky prole (Keller) employed in her father's sawmill and introduces a farrago of foreign articles to her love canal. No stranger to scabrous characterization, Alexandra's aptly cast and uninhibited as the pretentious and farouche flirt, a prototype of Breillat's many dallying protagonists consumed by libido and whimsies. As bold as boring whenever it isn't peevingly comedic, Breillat's first film is effectively evocative of teenage ennui and concupiscence...often at the expense of any intentional entertainment.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Nocturnal Uproar (see below).
Directed and written by Michael Crichton
Produced by Michael I. Rachmil, Lisa Faversham, Kurt Villadsen
Starring Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, G.W. Bailey
Robotic ubiquity in The Future of 1984 necessitates the constitution of police divisions who resolve crimes and mischances resulting from the malfunction of hacked and wayward automatons. When a domestic model wastes its proprietress, an investigating sergeant (Selleck) from one such squad paired with a brainish blonde cop (Rhodes) chance upon foul play perpetrated by a flagitious career culprit (Simmons) who exercises a rare verve for programming and tactics. Viewers oughtn't expect intrigue or depth on the order of Asimov, Gibson, Shirow, et al. from Crichton's silliest cinematic venture; novel technological innovations throughout are intended solely to occupy interest and forward plot: reconnoitering drones anticipating their contemporary equivalents, a reinforced pistol that shoots detonating tracker projectiles, wheeled, remote-controlled bombs and inexplicably sexapedal robot "spiders" armed with acidic needles are all sufficiently fun to upstage the human players. Selleck's adequate and tetchier than usual in the lead, his individual mustache immaculate even when his phiz is scathed by vitriol. Bereft of histrionic range yet far more Luciferian sans stage makeup, Simmons delightfully hams every line and crime as his truculent antagonist with facetious, stentorian delivery and a sinister visage only a Satan could love. Anyone deluded that Alley might've been at all appealing in the mid-'80s will be promptly disabused by her every guttural utterance, but she fits as a bitchy moll. Alas, Jerry Goldsmith's only wholly electronic score is also among his few truly amateurish attempts, but a few of his FM tones do tickle the ear. Ceaselessly footling and diverting, it's the class of movie that the cousins Globus would have been thrilled to produce (before stinting on its effects budget), seemingly geared to appeal to the average teenage boy. Howbeit, this feature's cult fanbase is distinguished by its worst member: Nicolae Ceausescu cited Runaway as his preferent pic, adverting frequently to Selleck and his character during the summary trial after which he and his spouse were executed. Evidently, Columbia didn't distribute in Romania during his regime.
Savage Streets (1984)
Directed by Danny Steinmann
Written by Danny Steinmann, Norman Yonemoto
Produced by John Strong, John L. Chambliss, Michael Franzese, Cleve Landsberg
Starring Linda Blair, Robert Dryer, Johnny Venocur, Debra Blee, Scott Mayer, Marcia Karr, Luisa Leschin, Sal Landi, Linnea Quigley, John Vernon, Lisa Freeman
A trashy high school coterie in filthy Hollywood trifles with a slaughterous trio of drug dealers to their terminal peril until the baddest (Blair) among them snaps, gussies herself up and exacts her requital with bear traps and a crossbow. Nary a single silly shot of Steinmann's late exploitation thriller doesn't divert -- not the derision, pranks, catfights or combat -- and all present are serviceably typecast as confiding rape victim (Quigley), meshuga malefactor (Dryer), rugged yet ineffectual authority figure (Vernon), et al. Blair's coked to her tingling teeth, consonant with her castmates, and consequently unable to render her role with the deportment of a sane human, yet she nails the frenzied furor of her character's vigilantist break with fantastic panache, spouting cheesy, deliciously dynamic dialogue. Yonemoto and Steinmann imparted to their script meager logic but liberal requisites of its genre, blazoned with lascivious nudity and equally gratuitous gore. For all its inane engagement, Streets still can't prompt a moment's boredom, but it might've been bettered by less ribbing in interchange for more action; howbeit, ladies are never so delightfully daffy in B-fare as when so patently scripted by men!
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Warriors.
Directed by John Badham
Written by Jim Kouf
Produced by Jim Kouf, Cathleen Summers, Gregg Champion, Dana Satler Hankins, John Badham
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Madeleine Stowe, Emilio Estevez, Aidan Quinn, Ian Tracey, Dan Lauria, Forest Whitaker
Upon a violent convict's crafty prison break, a Seattle police precinct collaborating with the FBI assigns one detective dyad (Dreyfuss, Estevez) to surveil the escapee's lovely girlfriend (Stowe) nightlong, in alternation with another (Lauria, Whitaker) monitoring her diurnally until Dreyfuss's senior lieutenant falls for her early in the second act, at which point the picture's appeal and plausibility plummet, only surfacing when we aren't subjected to an endeavor to romanticize an utterly unsexy lead. His comic timing and delivery are as aptly snappy as his fans would expect, but Dreyfuss alone among his co-stars is hopelessly miscast as a hardened cop, and revolting whenever ogling or courting Stowe, earthily radiant in one of her few roles as a Latina. She's warmly captivating, but they spark nary a scintilla of chemistry; who could with a man resonant of any complacent uncle attending a mitzvah? Were Estevez paired with an imposing and attractive leading man, they still couldn't surmount the silly excesses of a script that cancels its plot's every twist with a hole, divaricating slavishly from creative scenarios to prosaic farce. Badham's knack for action's especially observable during shootouts and chases -- especially when Washington state troopers pursue Quinn's cracked con -- but even in his best pictures, that craftsmanship clashes uncomfortably with his tolerance for senselessness. Would that a script doctor had refined Kouf's promising yet deeply flawed screenplay and Dreyfuss's part were assigned to a fit lead...Bridges? Eastwood? Scheider? Reynolds?!
Black Christmas (2006)
Directed and written by Glen Morgan
Produced by Glen Morgan, James Wong, Marty Adelstein, Dawn Parouse, Victor Solnicki, Steven Hoban, Ogden Gavanski, Kent Kubena, Satsuki Mitchell, Mike Upton, Marc Butan, Bob Clark, Mark Cuban, Scott Nemes, Noah Segal, Todd Wagner
Starring Katie Cassidy, Lacey Chabert, Michelle Trachtenberg, Kristen Cloke, Andrea Martin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Crystal Lowe, Robert Mann, Oliver Hudson
At the crest of American cinema's hateful horror remake trend, Morgan shamefully begat this detestably deviling, uninspired retread of Bob Clark's festal, deviously pioneering slasher cult classic, in which a bedlamite telephonically terrorizes while attritionally slaughtering the inhabitants of a sorority house, as showy, senseless, scareless dreck. Enigmatic spree killer Billy is loudly heard and scarcely seen in the original, but here fully, artlessly expatiated and disambiguated in extended, exhaustively expositional flashbacks that negative every last scruple of the antagonist's mystery or dread. In lieu of the compelling performances, visionary plotting and operative horror that distinguished Clark's movie from its many imitations, Morgan assails his audience's sensibilities with spat, witless dialogue idiomatic of a Gilmore Girls episode replete with stale one-liners, Shirley Walker's mincing score, CG flame on a roasted marshmallow and unremitting prognostics via cliched cues and composition of every feeble attempt to evoke fright. Martin's the sole sorority sister of the precedent movie present, cast as Marian Waldman's housemother and faring slightly better with her doltish dialogue than most of her fellow professed performers. Gorgeous, gifted Winstead and Trachtenberg also retain some hint of dignity as they tread the histrionic water of their characters' kiddie pool; predictably, neither quite lasts an hour. Marred by a grating voice (with which she slurs her every uttered sibilant, often unintelligibly), the jutting anteriors of her meretricious mug and a downright destitution of appeal, Cassidy's unfit as a supernumerary, much less a leading lady -- a disgrace to her mad, masterfully suave grandfather -- and can't elicit a whit of sympathy as the designated Last Girl. A few gory enucleations, dismemberments and impalements are ably actualized with messy practical effects, but so idiotically ill-conceived that they scarcely warrant notice. Nearly nine minutes/one-tenth of this feature's excruciating eighty-six were alloted to its end credits, in which a lengthy list of administrative and insurance contributions abound to eclipse those of its predecessor's entire cast and crew as an appropriate emblem of this industry's irredeemable dysfunction. Morgan persists in the production of pap, but thankfully hasn't helmed a pic since.
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Written by Joanne Harris, Robert Nelson Jacobs
Produced by Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Alan C. Blomquist, Meryl Poster, Michelle Raimo, Kit Golden, David Brown, Leslie Holleran, Mark Cooper
Starring Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Victoire Thivisol, Judi Dench, Hugh O'Conor, Peter Stormare, Carrie-Anne Moss, Aurelien Parent Koenig
Viewers affected by glycemic disorders aren't advised to view the most successful and saccharine of Hallström's many syrupy features in a single sitting; conceivably, anyone prone to horripilation may also suffer convulsions of a severity thitherto unimaginable when subjected to this foul fable of a periodically migratory chocolatier (Binoche) whose animacy and perceptivity regarding her vendees' adversities and sweet teeth endear her to the less subdued residents of a rigidly religious village in postwar France. Throughout Harris's puerile story, every conflict is contrived, each character a caricature: a latitudinarian society of Mary Sues comprising Binoche's errant artisan, her cute daughter (a heinously dubbed Thivisol), one battered housewife (Olin), a miserably cynical old bat (Dench) and her morbid drafter of a grandson (Koenig) resist the provincial proprieties imposed by the hamlet's stuffily overbearing mayor (Molina) and the gauring, pusillanimous priest (O'Conor) under his thumb who assay the reclamation of a churlish publican (Stormare) to curb his domestic abuse by dint of penance and catechesis. A maternal bitch (Moss, presumably manifesting internalized patriarchal oppression) and daffily debonaire Irish Gypsy (Depp) merely incorporate another implausible clash and prerequisite love interest. Hopelessly trifled away by a director whose unceasing and seemingly obstinate ignorance of dramatic rudiments befuddles even the most hardened cinephile on an incorrigibly risible script, a respectable cast are reduced to the weirdly stilted yet hammy delivery now omnipresent in televised and cinematic productions: odious drama club theatrics revisited as professional pabulum. Launching the drearily perfunctory phase of his career that's yet afoot, somnambulant Depp's silly flourishes prove particularly peeving as yet another bathetically romanticized Romani -- a portrayal of galling and specious political correctness proposed to patronize we Roma who know far better for the entertainment of whites who should. Numerous hokey hallmarks of Hallström's glorified Lifetime picture wantonly layer treacle upon his unpalatably overproduced glop, especially shopworn narration paired with Rachel Portman's cloying score to augur whichever few plot points aren't predictable during the first act. A shred of depth is implied by the protagonist's perpetuation of a ritual no more fruitful or righteous than those of her papal antagonists, but even this is enacted and duly resolved in as artless and obvious a manner as one could expect. Therewithal, whenever common flaws of a conservative society -- which here hardly reflect the ethos of Gallic parochial life -- are demonstrated in a work exuding typically trite Anglo-American convictions, deleterious phenomena such as spousal abuse and groundless xenophobia are trivialized, only addressed to safely vilipend a majority. This particular stamp of heterodox allegory might've been marginally subversive during the commercial culmination of Stanley Kramer's popular propaganda forty-odd years prior, but by 2000 it was long since as dated as banal, another tired stab at Catholic tradition to propitiate aging suburban boomers and their guileless offspring, all weaned on the dissent of a counterculture long since expired and reanimated by corporate media entities. Yet to ostentatious hausfrauen, civilization began circa 1960; the Weinsteins craftily baited yet another hook for the gaping maws of a lucrative target demographic. Confections prominently snacked and snarfed appear ambrosial, but the contemptible subtext that Harris, Hallström, etc. peddle here is nothing save nauseous.
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Don Roos
Produced by Gary Barber, Chuck Binder, Jerry Offsay, Bill Todman Jr., James G. Robinson, Marvin Worth, Gary Daigler, Kirsten W. Welles
Starring Isabelle Adjani, Sharon Stone, Chazz Palminteri, Kathy Bates, Spalding Gray, Shirley Knight, Allen Garfield
Chechik's transition from direction of vacuous music videos to feature filmmaking initially produced some entertaining offerings: half of his initial theatrical quartet comprise the raunchy holiday favorite National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Benny & Joon, a charmingly comedic psychologic romance in the familiar mold of David and Lisa; that the Canadian native elected to reinterpret Clouzot's classic thriller (which he stupidly animadverted as "flawed and misogynist") in a feminist context may be imputed to provincial idiocy, but his failure to fulfill any facet of this purported thriller only denotes a thoroughgoing ineptitude buoyed by vanity. Stone really is a wonder, and her career a testament to the enduring pull of the casting couch: how can anyone so egregiously overact by dint of such wooden delivery? After over a decade cast in prominent roles, this woman possessed yet not a grain of histrionic instinct or technique, posturing ludicrously in her supposedly sultry role as the mathematics instructor of a boarding school engaged in one of several affairs juggled by its sadistic headmaster (Palminteri) in rivalry with his pristine, cardiacally fragile wife (Adjani). Stone's nigh beyond salvage, but Chechik's sweeping incapability's also transparent via his able players: Adjani and Palminteri are also uncharacteristically stiff, and Gray seems to be channeling John Glover's fussier personae. Resembling a distaff Joe Don Baker, only Bates prevails by plausibility as an absurdly invented detective defined primarily by a mastectomy she references within her first ten lines. Not at all subserved by its moronic impertinence, schlockily recriminative repartee, costuming and set design evoking all the shoddiest points of noir crime dramas and a sapphic subtext of the hoariest convention, sprinkled with misandrist quips for a demographic prepossessed by Lifetime's fare, bound by Roos' typically prosaic dialogue and scored by numbers to the humdrum hilt courtesy of tiresome Randy Edelman, Chechik's turkey trudges on and on and on and on to a conclusion of brutal fatuity, at every opportunity almost calculatedly shirking suspense. In Hollywood, dreck begets dreck: in a small part played with suitable stilt not too many years after penning and co-producing the unbearably cornball features Regarding Henry and Forever Young, unsightly and nepotistic golden boy J.J. Abrams appears as one in a duo of A/V dorks to foretoken his perpetuation of uninspired trash in this exact idiom. Brilliant for their adapted invention, Clouzot's best movies are unassailable, recreated exceptionally on rarest occasions only by virtuosi such as Friedkin and Chabrol. Inadvertently, unrepentantly, Chechik certified that genre journeymen are seldom able auteurs, a verity apparently unfathomable to studio executives.
Directed and written by Avi Nesher
Produced by William Christopher Gorog, Donald P. Borchers
Starring Drew Barrymore, George Newbern, Leslie Hope, Dennis Christopher
So few good movies are conceived in a condition of indecision, and Nesher's uncertainty of whether to produce a god-awful pastiche of either Hitchcockian thrillers or Clive Barker's gory corporeal horrors provoked this flagrant yet funny jumble of derivation and incoordination. Equipped with genre cliches (an erratic bearing, representative music box and frequent epistaxes), lush and loony Barrymore is quartered by a doltish aspiring screenwriter (Newbern, and pardon my pleonasm) during a killing spree visibly committed by her identical double -- recurrences less implausible than the residence of this uninspired simpleton and his collaborative, obnoxiously prattling ex-girlfriend (Hope) in spacious rented lodgings despite their obviously everlasting unemployment. Ungainly romantic interludes interchange with agonizing badinage between the talentless former lovers and messily predictable slaughter, and whoever's suffered the second might hope for the third. Nesher's direction is as maladroit as his inhumanly sloppy, stilted, schmaltzy script: dramatic tension is minimized in every shot where it should be essential, and an alarming bathos redounds from the synchrony of these ill-conceived scenes and Jan Kaczmarek's syrupy score. Fortunately, neither a good cast nor cinematographer were squandered here: Sven Kirsten lensed this dingy production with the eye of a periscope operator, and the Wiseauan acting is roundly, discretely wooden and hammy. At the command of deft directors, Barrymore's proven herself adequate as a leading lady, but here her only observable assets are physical, though as eye candy she's certainly more palatable than hideous Hope or hapless Newbern, attired in a rankling, reversed baseball cap in nearly every indoor scene. So often are Barrymore's foxy figure and physiognomy exploited in lascivious scenes that one wonders if she was selected at all for her better output in what frequently seems a grossly masturbatory exercise. Featuring riotous cameos from a dipping boom mike and Drew's demonstrably daffy mother Jaid, production design by a staff clearly not of this earth and more inadvertently hysterical moments than most B-movies of its caliber, Nesher's schizophrenic turkey seems occasionally emulative of both Hellraiser and Mulholland Drive despite its anteriority of the latter by nearly a decade. It's an admonitory model of how a movie oughtn't be dressed, cast, played and especially shot, as well as one of the most entertaining unintentional comedies of its genres.
Four Minutes (2006)
Directed and written by Chris Kraus
Produced by Alexandra Kordes, Meike Kordes, Sabine Holtgreve, Chris Kraus, Bettina Ricklefs, Georg Steinert
Starring Monica Bleibtreu, Hannah Herzsprung, Richy Müller, Sven Pippig, Jasmin Tabatabai, Stefan Kurt, Vadim Glowna, Nadja Uhl
Upon the altar of his own sophomoric sensibilities, Schlondorff protege Kraus sacrificed fine performances and the promising premise of an elderly piano preceptor (Bleibtreu) convinced that she can rehabilitate a virtuoso (Herzsprung) incarcerated for murder by further nurturing and rarefying her talent. Kraus's cockamamie narrative is bloated by a peripheral subplot (at this late date, why are National Socialists still malefactors in every fifth German genre flick?), and he needlessly belabors his protagonists, heaping progressively preposterous asperities upon Herzsprung's convict that culminate in perhaps the single clumsiest, most absurd and abashing construct of a pianistic, avant-garde impromptu in cinematic history. Herzsprung's gloriously tetchy, refractory, vivacious as the embattled, peppery pianist, effortlessly hurtling laughable lines to convince her audience that she deserves this role in a superior picture. As a technically sound production that's adroitly acted and ultimately undone by miraculously daft chimerae and pretenses, this could be the archetypic contemporary German drama.
Hugo Pool (1997)
Directed by Robert Downey Sr.
Written by Robert Downey Sr., Laura Ernst
Produced by Barbara Ligeti, Douglas Berquist, Ralph Cooper, Michael Frislev, Iren Koster, Lawrence Steven Meyers, Chad Oakes
Starring Alyssa Milano, Patrick Dempsey, Cathy Moriarty, Malcolm McDowell, Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Richard Lewis
Parallel to the majority of works generated in nearly any other medium, most cinematic endeavors are terrible, commonly created and produced by corporate studios, ambitious peripheral firms and independent upstarts in dizzying haste without cogitation or scrutiny of the sort that any development of quality art or entertainment demands. Their successes largely incident to operative distribution targeting reliable demographics, most of these pictures are soon forgotten, if at all seen. A relative few implode with spectacularity sufficient to prompt avowals of their inferiority from even the most venal mainstream critics. Adequately overproduced and geared to satisfy the saccharine proletarian palate, a greater modicum receive amplified acclamation and accolades to the repugnance of legitimate cineastes. Only once or twice each decade does a filmmaker of a developed nation produce a movie of such staggering, singular and unaccountable flagrance that it prepossesses intellect and esthesia alike with all the fascination of a true phenomenon. Downey scripted his penultimate picture with spouse Laura Ernst to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but it's so astonishingly abominable that audiences are more likely to contemplate how a director (whose few hits are more attributable to opportunism than talent) could contrive anything so abysmal than the malady itself. Players of proven proficiency are invariably degraded when interpreting Downey's outlandishly tacky screenplay at his awkward direction: salaciously ogled by Downey's camera in a movie dedicated to his dead wife, Milano crankily overacts her every line, sauntering with a gait reminiscent of Daffy Duck's as a diabetic pool cleaner who's nearly as irritating as her parents: a whorish gambling addict (Moriarty) and recovering junkie (McDowell, wretchedly impersonating Jimmy Durante) who blathers irksome slogans. The latter's paired with an effeminate, autistic half-wit (Penn, still addled) appareled in girls' pumps to their mutual captivation. Gaunt in the throes of heroin addiction before his father's camera, Junior's not a jot more tolerable than his co-stars as a flamboyant eurotrash feature director. Dempsey shouldn't be so miffing as a wealthy playboy immobilized by ALS, but Downey resolves that improbability with overabundant close-ups of his stupid grin. Whenever hope seems to renew during a span of silence, it's neutralized by goggling Lewis, ineptly mimicking Al Pacino as a mob boss. How did a man whose experience as a director of major motion pictures exceeding forty years shoot something so amateurishly? Sloppy wide shots and close-ups rotate jarringly, a merciful scarcity of pans are clumsily implemented, and every single portrayal plays out like a failed rehearsal, struggling to coax some hint of humor from an offensively unfunny story wherein all characters are imparted quirks to no comedic result and the inertia of Gehrig's disease is occasionally exploited for amusement, all rudely overscored by Danilo Pérez's horribly niminy-piminy jazz and pseudo-Salsa. This is schlock of a sort one expects from a screenwriter's directorial foray, not a pet project helmed by an industry veteran. As either a commemoration of the deceased or PSA concerning ALS, this despicably tasteless and tiresome fiasco could only arise from supreme complacence.
The Last Slumber Party (1988)
Directed by Stephen Tyler
Written by Stephen Tyler, Jim Taylor
Produced by Jill Clark, Bill F. Blair, Betty S. Scott
Starring Jan Jenson, Nancy Mayer, Joann Whitley, Rick Polizi, David Whitley, Danny David, Lance Descourez
One can only speculate from its uniquely categorical inferiority that this choice contender for the coveted title of World's Worst Slasher was less directed than wrangled over a weekend's duration. Flagrant flubs, erratic continuity and cretinous characterizations abound, proving more memorable than some premise involving a serial murderer's escape from a hospital where he's scheduled for a lobotomy, and subsequent massacre of his physician's unaccountably licentious nurse, obnoxious daughter, her halfwitted friends, their oafish prospective boyfriends, etc. Only thematically hackneyed, its sheer schlock is almost visionary: the acting's arrantly atrocious, audio is muffled, editing wildly irregular, its jejune dialogue reads like that scripted by an outraged adolescent and murky photography seems to have been achieved with a beclouding, lenticular application of petroleum jelly, and the soundtrack might have been derived from a recording of a Casio keyboard abused by a toddler. Its final thirty-odd minutes degenerate into a laggard, somniferous slog that may represent some attempt to simulate surrealism. It's best tolerated as a backdrop to amusing RiffTrax zingers, but for cinematic horror completists, the unsurpassed incompetence palpable in its every property is a wonder to watch.
Directed by Sanford White
Written by William Rotsler, Sanford White
Produced by Sanford White, Harry H. Novak
Starring Susan Stewart, Steve Vincent, James Brand, Vic Lance, Stuart Lancaster
Ignited by her distaste for fruits and vegetables in the stupor of maddening acid trips, a sweetly stunning go-go dancer (Stewart) seduces sleazeballs in her father's warehouse with sultry dancing to her plodding theme song ere sloppily slaying them with a screwdriver and meat cleaver. Novak's first sexploitation hit is far more funny than sexy, its daft, stiffly delivered dialogue (replete with hippie lingo) boosted by invariably cheesy acting. To compensate for his story's scanty and incoherent plot -- in which a pair of loquacious detectives (Vincent, Brand) investigate these macabre murders with no headway whatsoever until their receipt of a single tip during the flick's last ten minutes -- White shot bountiful footage of nubile ladies (whose writhings are mere similitudes of what our species terms dancing) constituting approximately 60% of the movie's content. Further temporization was interposed as an extradiegetic scene scored with syrupy, neo-romantic orchestral music, in which a go-go bar's managing barkeep makes tender, protracted love to one of his aspiring dancers. White's perfunctory style arouses zero eros, tension or excitement during the critical enthrallments and contiguous executions, and banal effects (patterned projections, whirling multihued lights, space echo) image our murderess's addled perspective to embellish these sequences half so much as Stewart's sillily clipped diction and goofy accent. It fails as a crime drama, psychedelic romp or softcore porn, but stag aficionados who appreciate the comedy of its stilted elocution will savor every jiggling gyration and botched line of White and Novak's cult crap classic.
Miami Connection (1987)
Directed by Woo-sang Park, Y.K. Kim
Written by Woo-sang Park, Y.K. Kim, Joseph Diamand
Produced by Y.K. Kim, William P. Young, Joseph Diamand, Eddy A. Sirhan, Woo-sang Park
Starring Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Kathy Collier, Maurice Smith, Joseph Diamand, Angelo Janotti, William Ergle, Si Y Jo, Woo-sang Park
When they aren't attending courses at the University of Central Florida or entertaining thirtysomething fans as a rock outfit whose lyrics commend the virtues of camaraderie and constancy, a quintet of orphaned, calculatedly multiethnic taekwondo practitioners find themselves persistently beleaguered by a gang of thugs assembled by a rival band (resembling the partners of an accounting firm) whose act theirs supplanted, a cocaine ring lead by the psychotic, bewhiskered brother (Ergle) of their frontwoman (Collier) and a clan of biker ninjas governed by a necessarily evil Japanese (Jo) who support the latter party by annihilating rival narcotics dealers. Uniformly hammy performances of preposterous dialogue, atrocious dubbing, overzealous foley, a gaping plot hole collateral to every twist and a plethora of goofy visages form the dense layers of inanity that render every other shot of co-director/star Kim's ambitiously wacky chopsocky a hysterical delight for enthusiasts of B-movies. Prefiguring the landmark schlock of fellow immigrants Wiseau and Nguyen, Park's and Kim's conception of American culture and cinema is as stereotypical as silly, a medium for their anti-ninja bias, and perfectly harmonious with no few preteen fantasies. Nearly ninety minutes of barbaric combat sprinkled with vignettes of contrived drama and risible posturing conclude with a title card heralding an irenicist proposition for the abolition of violence. Huh!
Recommended for a double feature paired with Samurai Cop or the NES version of Ninja Gaidan.
The Night We Never Met (1993)
Directed and written by Warren Leight
Produced by Michael Peyser, Robert De Niro, Rudd Simmons, Mary Ann Page, Janet Graham, Daniel Rogosin, Susan Seidelman, Sidney Kimmel, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Starring Matthew Broderick, Annabella Sciorra, Kevin Anderson, Justine Bateman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tim Guinee, Michelle Hurst, Christine Baranski
Leight's insipidly indirect contribution to the surplusage of charmless, unfunny, independently produced romantic comedies that glutted American theaters in the '90s contains all the earmarks of its genus: smarm substituted for sarcasm, painfully proportionate protraction and predictability, and an abject absence of agreeable characters. Obstructed and repelled by the slovenly roommates with whom he shares a flyblown apartment, a precious, superficially cultured delicatesseur (Broderick, at his career's nadir) employed at Dean & DeLuca who harbors a restauranteur's aspirations sublets more comfortable and commodious lodgings from a scummily sexist broker (Anderson) biweekly, as does a miserably married dental assistant (Sciorra) who luxuriates only in her painterly avocation. Both men (and the audience) tolerate dismal women: ever a milksop, the fromagier dotes on a dimwitted performance artist (Tripplehorn, burlesquing an atrocious French accent) who works him like her personal punch press, while his piggish landlord's engaged to magisterial and neanderthaloid dullard Bateman, who couldn't be more suitable for the role of a dense virago. By correspondence and favors, both of the desperate leaseholders (who repeatedly, adorably miss one other) establish a remote sympathy, but enduringly discommodious misapprehensions characteristic of a plot belabored during a sitcom's seventh season separate them until a distinctly underwhelming conclusion. It's far worse a rigor than most flicks of its subgenre: plodding formulaically through its three hoary acts -- every development of which any child could readily presage -- character development is advanced an inch in toto through wearily dilatory sequences clumsily punctuated by ill-timed fades and lousy editing to the jazzy twee of Evan Lurie's unbearable score, all parading the inefficiencies of the writer-director and his post-production staff. An apish, clamorous tantrum provoked from Bateman briefly dispels supreme tedium, but cameos from Garry Shandling and Louise Lasser only remind viewers that they could instead be watching something worthwhile, or at least humorous. Impressively, Leight fulfilled what ought be an impossibility by raising the funds to produce an ostensive comedy void of a single amusing scene.
Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante
Written by Thunder Levin
Produced by David Michael Latt, Paul Bales, David L. Garber, Chris Regina, Thomas P. Vitale, David Rimawi
Starring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox, Mark McGrath, Kari Wuhrer, Courtney Baxter, Dante Palminteri, Judd Hirsch
Manhattan Island is fordone and a multiplicity of C- to T-list celebrities endangered when more atrocious CG of selachian waterspouts loom large over the big, rotten apple in this ineludible sequel to The Asylum's most popular schlock to date. As before, basic logic, every law of physics and the planet's most powerful military are disregarded entirely as former surfer Ziering spearheads a charge to annihilate tornadoes and the sharks saturated within by the most destructively impossible means known to hyperactive teenagers. This is just as well, as the bygone 90210 star's far better preserved than his coetaneous castmates, nearly all of whom are weirdly misshapen by alcoholism, Botox injections and cosmetic surgery: Wuhrer, Tiffany Shepis, and Downtown Julie Brown all resemble freakishly reanimated prostitutes, whilom Sugar Ray frontman McGrath is clearly the amented lovechild of Morrissey and Everett McGill, and Reid has finally transmuted into a gaunt mannequin in the throes of perpetual inebriation. Most other familiar faces herein fortunately fare worse: blissful wishes come true as Kelly Osbourne and Wil Wheaton are bloodily slain; alas, Richard Kind is spared. Most of Levin's best comedy is manifest as ludicrously contrived and goofily forecast action, and casting of occasionally clever congruity (Robert Hays plays an airline pilot, Judd Hirsch a cab driver); whenever pop culture references occur otherwise or wisecracks are voiced, the constant stupidity throughout turns from diverting to agonizing. As The Asylum further embellish and extravagate their inane formula of Cormanesque creature feature and disaster movie, they perhaps unintentionally emphasize the verity that deliberately bad movies are no less so, and that Generation X is aging horrendously.
The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Graziella Magherini, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Produced by Dario Argento, Giuseppe Colombo
Starring Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli, Julien Lambroschini, John Quentin
Would that Asia were born a decade earlier, so that she might've starred in those last of her father's best pictures rather than this byword of the gaucherie so individual of his latter work. Sadly, she's cast as a Roman detective investigating a rash of rapes and murders spread from the capital to Florence, where she swoons before Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus exhibited at the Uffizi Gallery whilst suffering the titular disorder's psychosomatic hallucinations shortly before the perpetrator (Kretschmann) she's tracking seizes her for a vicious bout of rape and torture. His overt demise hardly slows a mounting body count, but even those most obtuse viewers who can't prognosticate this tardy thriller's "surprise" twist will probably be too restive for its conclusion to care. That a major motion picture helmed by an auteur whose experience spanned a quarter-century could be so amateurishly shot and cut bewilders Argento's casual admirers and devotees alike. A few imaginative moments that recall Argento's masterful past can't counterpoise silly rotating shots and shabby CG, never mind cheesy dialogue that's hammily dubbed in the mode of an anime distributed by U.S. Manga Corps -- an unusually ill-advised attempt to engage Anglophone audiences, especially considering the Engish fluency of its leads, and most of the supporting players...all of whom are horrendously directed. A repetitive minacity inherent of Morricone's score is euphoniously arranged, but the vocals of its monody are as risible as anything else heard in the soundtrack. This is the threshold of Argento's degradation, as unfortunate for the decline of a genre innovator into a cheapjack of mozzarella as for its simultaneity to the blossom of his loveliest, most gifted offspring.
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by Mitch Cullin, Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni
Produced by Gabriella Martinelli, Jeremy Thomas, Wladyslaw Bartoszewics, Nick O'Hagan, Paul Brett, Peter Watson
Starring Jodelle Ferland, Janet McTeer, Brendan Fletcher, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly
If Gilliam's beveled and floating shots identify his professional low-water mark as idiosyncratic, they certainly can't redeem this tedious tale of two horse junkies' vociferously imaginative daughter (Ferland), who repairs with her father (Bridges) to the aging rock frontman's derelict childhood prairie home when her mother (Tilly) finally succumbs to the strain of methadone addiction. At a snail's pace, she cultivates acquaintance with a grimy, neighboring weirdo (McTeer) and her fretful, doltish brother (Fletcher) whilst immersed in fantasies far removed from her grim circumstances. Technically, nothing's objectionable here: Nicola Pecorini's photography is lovely, Jeff and Mychael Danna's score sounds some memorable themes, tawdrily cluttered production design by Jasna Stefanovic provisions as much an eyeful as one could expect in a pic from the veteran Python, and all the players are well on their marks. Yet aside from a few striking, wasted hypostatic visual effects, nearly 100 minutes of these two charmless hours merely focus on rollicking hicks yabbering loudly to themselves and at each other. By treading diegetic water and drubbing the slavish stereotype of the whimsical redneck to a pulp, Gilliam's only proved that oddities for their own sake are a screaming bore.
Tragic Ceremony (1972)
Directed by Riccardo Freda
Written by Mario Bianchi, José Gutiérrez Maesso, Leonardo Martín
Produced by José Gutiérrez Maesso
Starring Camille Keaton, Tony Isbert, Máximo Valverde, Luigi Pistilli, Luciana Paluzzi, Irina Demick, José Calvo, Giovanni Petrucci
Veteran genre director Freda despised the incumbrance of helming this dismal, fifth-rate horror trash as much as any sensible audience would its screening. Four vacationing layabouts seek shelter from a shopworn nocturnal downpour at a patrician's estate, where one of them (Keaton) is rescued by her companions from a ritual sacrifice during the householder's black mass, after which its participants inexplicably massacre one another. The quartet's escape can't shake a possessive malediction that ensures their doom and any viewer's supreme boredom. Shoddily shot by a filmmaker who didn't care to and starring a photogenic cast who apply their minimal effort, this poky, pontifical pablum wallows in stark illogic its every minute with a plot distinguished primarily by its innumerable holes and asinine circuity, and plentiful vacuous prattle that only substantiates the protagonists' niggling idiocy. Keaton and Paluzzi were seldom so ravishing before or since, but they're squandered in prototypic capacities as Haunted Victim and Preternatural Malfeasant, respectively. Even Stelvio Cipriani's soppy score and Carlo Rambaldi's amateurish effects are among the worst of their otherwise brilliant careers. This picture's a choice selection for amateur riffing, but represents a glaring nadir for all involved...and none so much as the genre of gothic horror.
True Crime (1999)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Andrew Klavan, Larry Gross, Paul Brickman, Stephen Schiff
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Lili Fini Zanuck, Richard D. Zanuck, Tom Rooker
Starring Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Denis Leary, James Woods, Diane Venora, Bernard Hill
Two filmmakers inhere within the figure of America's most durable erstwhile leading man: an insightful journeyman whose movies bare a conscientious balance of tough individuality and sensitive characterization, and a prolific purveyor of embarrassingly overheated hokum. Forty minutes of plot are stretched into two egregiously temporized hours in this awful adaptation by the latter of another novel in which Klavan broadcasts his equalitarianism and adulterated conservative values...and tangentially, an incident where a disgraced, alcoholic newsman of licentious impulsivity (Eastwood) intuitively happens upon a discrepancy in the case of a convicted murderer (Washington), whose execution impends hours following their scheduled interview. Only during its last fifteen minutes does any suspense whatever arduously emerge from the mire of this scurvily costive narrative fraught with innumerable and abashing personal vignettes, a glut of puerile dialogue and institutional contrivances that render the entire production as divinable as mortifying. His dream cast weathers Eastwood's uncertain direction with varying, often surprising results: despite their outstanding presence and delivery, veterans Venora and Woods (who enacted superbly in plenteous contemporaneous and inconsequential collaborations with Carpenter, Sofia Coppola, Larry Clark, et al.) are inexplicably hammy and inches off their marks in the roles of Eastwood's gruff senior editor and estranged wife; Michaels Jeter and McKean endue memorable quirk to their ridiculous roles as a natty, unreliable murder witness and a sillily sanctimonious prison chaplain; Leary fares well, typecast as a thornily seething assistant editor as cuckolded by Eastwood's subordinate as Klavan's strain of conservatism has been for decades; curiously, Washington outperforms everyone including his iconic director with a stoic solemnity that braces his cliched, wrongly accused archetype with some desperately necessary plausibility. During every other scene, Eastwood's temperamentally terrific when he isn't so conspicuously self-conscious in a role clearly intended for a man twenty years his junior, but the septuagenarian had at this late date outlived his function as a viable sex symbol, and his stilted, slightly creepy propositions to and flings with women who could well be his granddaughters clearly verify that even the most ruggedly sexy men are subject to expiration dates. That any of these histrions surmounted so much precious persiflage, artlessly voiced exposition and cheesy flashbacks typical of of those in a third-rate televised police procedural might actually be to Eastwood's credit, much as smooth laxation may be ascribed to a sound diet. What Klavan and these three screenwriting hacks ply as humor is unbearable, manifest worst as a shnorring black hobo whose comic relief seems tantamount to a minstrel show, and a dretching scene in which Eastwood hurriedly carts his daughter through the Oakland Zoo to maximal cutesiness prior to a scheduled interview. When a ray of reality bursts through all its smarmy artifice and unidimensional characters, momentary and unintentional comedy is once realized at 1:49:55, when the actual killer's grandmother, in perfect conformity to her stereotype, confesses to Eastwood's reporter: "He wasn't a bad boy, but he did a terrible thing!" Some of Klavan's plot's twists are cleverly contoured, and it's hinged on a twist of modest ingenuity, but his failed fusion of crime drama and soap opera is ultimately as pointless as the private administration of capital punishment. How anyone with 28 years and a score of precedent pictures to his directorial credits can craft something so abysmally amateurish beggars astonishment, but as perhaps the most inconsistent of American cineastes, Eastwood closed the last century with one of his very worst offerings.
Directed by David Wnendt
Written by Charlotte Roche, Sabine Pochhammer, David Wnendt, Claus Falkenberg
Produced by Peter Rommel
Starring Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Kruse, Meret Becker, Axel Milberg
Filth flows from and unto every orifice of a pretty, putrid provocateur (Juri) who vaginally absorbs muck from toilet seats, masturbates with phallic vegetables, slums with a fetishistic immigrant, contaminates provender and utensils with bodily fluids, face-paints with menstrual blood and swaps tampons with her unsightly best friend (Kruse) until an anal incision inflicted during a shave induces her hospitalization -- a condition she meditates to prolong so to reunite her divorced parents (Becker, Milberg) and flirt with a timorous nurse (Letkowski). Wnendt adapted Roche's daft novel as a pastiche of exquisite fatuity, plying flourishes of pinchbeck Tykwer, Boyle and Ritchie to ineptly offset its deficiencies: equivalencies are substituted for insights, snark for sport, posturing grotesques for appealing characters, obscene yet overworked anecdotes for a plot. Naturally, our grubby exhibitionist discountenances every authority figure who indulges the cheek to admonish her with outrageously feculent feats of idiocy, but for all its desperate endeavor to shock and nauseate with her sexual, narcotic and septic exploits, most of this adolescent feature's 110 meandering minutes merely comprise a deadly longueur scarcely punctuated by rare moments of human sentiment or musty metaphysics. A critical and commercial success, Wnendt's picture represents the infantile German cinema of Emmerich, Boll and Alexander that supplanted the disregarded Neuer Deutscher Film decades ago. Few archetypes are so mortifying as the stilted German striving to demonstrate countercultural irreverence, and ultimately substantiating just how impressible he or she is to degenerate American influence.
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