2019/11/15

Palatable: The Panic in Needle Park

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

2019/11/09

Execrable: Girls' Night Out

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

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

--Ann Landers

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

Behold -- the most unconvincing headshot yet shot:

2019/10/26

Mediocre: Knowing

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

2019/10/19

Palatable: Train to Busan

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

2019/10/12

Execrable: Dead Awake

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

2019/10/05

Palatable: Would You Rather

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

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

--Albert Camus, The Fall

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

2019/08/29

Sublime: Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation

Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation (2012)
Written, produced and directed by Stefan Haupt
Starring Jordi Bonet i Armengol, Etsuro Sotoo, Jaume Torreguitart, Joan Rigol, Josep Maria Subirachs i Sitjar, Mark Burry, Joan Vila-Grau, Raimon Panikkar, Lluís Bonet, Jordi Savall, Luard Bonet, Josep Tallada, Joan Bassegoda, David Mackay, Mariona Bonet, Anna Huber

"Other architects compel admiration; Gaudí demands love as well."

--Anthony Burgess, The Gaudiness of Gaudí

Its towering, bedight immanity reflects the hugeness of its architect's heart and faith, enormously and unmistakably indelible upon its metropolitan skyline. Antoni Gaudí's minor basilica is the most idiomatic of churches, a synthesis of Art Nouveau and neo-Gothic, conciliation of the modern and eternal, byword of Barcelona, endeavor to objectify empyrean majesty on terra firma and monument to Catalan creativity, Catholic devotion and Christ's deathless divinity. Of his fanciful fourteen constructions in the Catalonian capital, its unequaled ambition alone beggars the baroque in curvilineal persistence and wanton intricacy. Produced during the 125th (nonconsecutive) year of its construction, Haupt's cinematic celebration of this incomplete, incomparable architectural and religious phenomenon renders its history in contemporary context with graceful slow pans, overhead and stabile shots before, above and interior interposed by a wealth of revealing interviews. Chief architect Bonet declares deference to Gaudí's intent, expounds on his conceptual adaptation of natural forms, reports numerous challenges surmounted and expected to realize his herculean enterprise, and guides viewers through its uniquely hyperboloidal nave; his brother Lluís, a priest who conducts Mass in the basilica's crypt, continues this tour to designate columns denoting and dedicated to the Apostles and Evangelists; Rigol, chairman of the Sagrada Familia's foundation, narrates its conception as a small expiatory temple instituted by bookseller Josep Maria Bocabella; theologian Panikkar relates Gaudí's humble origins and character, and avows that his greatest work is the ultimate symbol of the consubstantial Trinity; exhibited conducting La Capella de Catalunya's superb rendition of Bach's Mass in B minor, Savall likens sacred structure and composition to illustrate interpretive evolutions independent of their respective creators. Disposed at its furthest flanks, the Sagrada Familia's twain completed (of three projected) frontispieces are as antipodal thematically and stylistically as their public receptions: Christ's birth is signified by the Nativity facade facing a rising sun to its northeast, and his death by the Passion facade before each southwestern setting sun. That former frontal's grand exuberance was completed in 2000 after the creation and installation of its polychrome doors and symbolic statuary of Joseph, Mary and neonatal Jesus, musicians, singers, angels, flora and fauna intricately hewn over the course of fifteen years by sculptor Sotoo, a gifted and intimate epigone as dedicated to Gaudí's vision as to their shared Catholicism. His controversial obverse is the agnostic Subirachs, once a cosignatory to an infamous open letter published in La Vanguardia on 1965.9.1 that opposed the church's finalization, which he's since retracted. Individuated by a harshly orthogonal angularity fashionable in the late 20th century, his elegiac images of sublunary sin, lamenting figures, and the Savior's trials and Crucifixion is fearsome, austere and truly original, fulfilling Gaudí's intentions for a Passion portraying sacrificial severity with stark simplicity, and widely reprobated as a failure for its inconsonant deviation from Gaudí's idiom. Sotoo's veneration for Gaudí is patently dissimilar to the dispassionate respect that Subirachs voices in defense of his individuality. One Joan Vila-Grau, designer of the particolored, stained-glass panes so vivid within the basilica, proclaims a similar insistence, though his manner meshes better; these patterns are exactly cut and assembled for installation by Luard Bonet. Elsewhere, the project's executive architect and researcher Mark Burry presses software intended for aeronautical design into service to dimension parametric, digital models so to flexibly draft present and future developments, and emphasizes the need for collaborative, interdepartmental communication. Surely the least among these interviewees is one David Mackay, architect, urban planner and another cosigner of the aforementioned open letter, who without explication derogates the basilica's postwar construction as inauthentic and jejune; exuding a rare hypocrisy, he stupidly submits that this house of worship's purpose should be "more social" and "less religious" to fulfill contemporary, interfaith imperatives of "our culture" -- thickly oblivious to the discrete incompatibility of Catalonian and Spanish, much less British cultures. Another nadir from degenerate, atheist Albion, this peculiarly fatuous, Anglo-globalist perspective is as notable for nescience as inanity, and typical of the British refusal to fathom Catalonia since Orwell's denouncement of this masterwork. Howbeit, this ecclesiastical edifice has weathered worse, such as anarchists who conflagrated most of Gaudí's plans and models in the anti-clerical devastation of Spain's Civil War. Modeler Josep Tallada diligently inventories thousands of their surviving portions and fragments identified and otherwise, and Sotoo has since reconstructed numerous smashed statues. To finally consecrate this chef-d'oeuvre, Pope Benedict XVI visited Barcelona to the acclamation of godly throngs and Bonet's reverent greeting, the event to which Haupt's documentary culminates. Perhaps a sequel or appendix may be shot to document the basilica's completion sometime in the upcoming score, when the third and final Glory facade comprising a gigantic conical array imaging Christ's supernal triumph and the paths to heaven and hell will be erected, as will the remaining ten steeples to a total of eighteen typing the dozen Apostles, Evangelical quartet (to feature gargoyles crafted by Sotoo), Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ collinear above the crypt at the nave's and transept's intersection as the central tallest, whereupon the church's height of 170 meters will render it in stature unmatched...yet a meter shorter than nearby Montjuïc hill in obeisance to Jehovah's physitheistic peak. Until then, visitors and viewers alike are whelmed to witness its unfinished, richly representative grandeur. From each facade's threefold porticos importing Christian virtues to the pinnacles of their apostolic steeples, they possess a singularly, almost otherworldly power substantiated in stone. The Nativity's porticos are demarcated by massive columns bearing helical relief on testudine footstalls, and its Tree of Life rises mightily from its central portico of Charity. Polarily, slant sequoian columns support the Passion, wherein a morbidly osteal colonnade upholds its pyramidal pediment topped with a crown of thorns countering the Tree of Life. A columnar forest, the nonobjectively isobilateral nave's coffers admit sunlight as that dappled though boughs, and its multiplex contours jut pointed or swell convex, leading to the apse's soaring hyperboloidal vault of 75 meters, under which the chancel is lambently illumined. Vertices of lesser spires sprout Sotoo's sacramental sheaves of wheat and clusters of grapes. Ellipses and lobations and crochets and curlicues, blooming bosses, liturgical motifs, canonical iconography as phantasmagoria in constant curvature everywhere teem myriad. From Montserrat's prolate hills and botany stylized, it is the immaculate and the ethereal reified.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Teshigahara's Antonio Gaudí.