Palatable: Eastern Boys

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.


Favorites: The Last Mistress

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.


Execrable: Hugo Pool

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.


Palatable: Downhill Racer

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.


Sublime: The Marquise of O

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.


Favorites: Images

Images (1972)
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.


Execrable: Doppelganger

Doppelganger (1993)
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.


Mediocre: A Real Young Girl

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.


Palatable: Cronos

Cronos (1993)
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.


Sublime: Innocence

Innocence (2004)
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.


Favorites: Freaked

Freaked (1993)
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.


Execrable: The Night We Never Met

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.


Palatable: Criminal Law

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.


Sublime: Cul-de-Sac

Cul-de-Sac (1966)
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.


Favorites: The Flower of My Secret

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.


Execrable: Chocolat

Chocolat (2000)
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.