Mediocre: Gloria

Gloria (2014)
Directed by Christian Keller
Written by Sabina Berman
Produced by Alan B. Curtiss, Matthias Ehrenberg, Christian Keller, Barrie M. Osborne, Braulio Arsüaga, Joan Christian Carmona, Rodrigo de Santiago, Manuel Espino, Mario Ganon, Carlos Garcia de Paredes, Eduardo Gómez Treviño, José Levy, León Levy, José Asse Marcos, Sergio Palacios, Guillermo Pino, John Winston Rainey, Emma Ramos, Osvaldo Ríos, Eduardo Sitton, ElÍas Sitton, Siahou Sitton, Antonio Soave, Salomón Sutton, Yeoshua Syrquin, Diego Szychowski, Luis Szychowski, Jorge Trad, Patricio Trad, Gerardo Vaqueiro Ussel, Álvaro Vaqueiro Ussel, Vita Vargas, Alex Zito, Mariana Félix, Luis Díaz, Max Appedole, Ricardo Kleinbaum, Charlotte Larsen, Anthony Picciuto
Starring Sofía Espinosa, Marco Pérez, Tatiana del Real, Karla Rodriguez, Estrella Solís, Ximena Romo, Alejandra Zaid, Alicia Jaziz, Ma. Fernanda Monroy, Andrea Bentley, Andrea Isamar, Marisa Rubio, Gutemberg Brito, Marcia Coutiño, Clarissa Malheiros, Miriam Calderón, Pepe Olivares, Arturo Vázquez
Nolens volens, anyone who’s becharmed their nation is entitled to — or incumbered with — an unavoidable biopic. This glossy reenactment of the ascent, celebrity and scandal that established pop singer Gloria Trevi (Espinosa) as a household name in both her native Mexico and the Hispanosphere entire is the rare picture that might’ve moved more satisfaction for superficiality. Espinosa’s vocal and visual likeness to Trevi is as felicific as her personation opposite Pérez, who plays with equal energy her abusive, autocratic, egregiously polyamorous producer and unexclusive lover Sergio Andrade, under whose auspice the playfully prurient popstar’s career was formed, furthered, nearly foredone. No stranger to defamation, Trevi entertained understatement by repudiating this production as “aberrant.” Berman’s schmaltzy script nearly sinks its enterprise with an uncurbed maudlinism, subtext of feminist banality, one scurrilous fiction theorizing the songstress’s maternity, and frequent narrative rotation from Trevi’s exhilarating career during the ’80s and ’90s to her Brazilian incarceration in the early aughts, which ruins the flick’s momentum and appeal. This isn’t improved by Keller’s rote direction, or an instance of propagandistic casting courtesy of Berman’s stereotypically kosher kin populating those risibly plethoric productional credits. After nearly a decade of research comprehending extensive interviews with their subjects, Keller and Berman somehow couldn’t catch that Trevi’s substance and allure consists in the voice and verve by which she romped into Mexico’s common heart, not her victimhood as an alleged accessary to Andrade’s ephebophilic felonies. Their focus on the latter to the relative pretermission of the former wastes a capable cast and a fun, absorbing true story depicted a decade too late — a disservice to Trevi, her fans and uninitiated viewers.

Mediocre: Tess

Tess (1979)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Thomas Hardy, Gérard Brach, Roman Polanski, John Brownjohn
Produced by Claude Berri, Timothy Burrill, Jean-Pierre Rassam, Pierre Grunstein
Starring Nastassja Kinski, Peter Firth, Leigh Lawson, John Collin, Rosemary Martin, Carolyn Pickles, Sylvia Coleridge, Suzanna Hamilton, Caroline Embling, Fred Bryant, David Markham, Pascale de Boysson, Josine Comellas, Dicken Ashworth, Arielle Dombasle, John Bett, Tom Chadbon, Richard Pearson, Tony Church

Multiple-choice Tesst

  1. Polanski’s most swank, syrupy, celebrated feature is dedicated “To Sharon.” Who other than his famously slain wife might’ve been a more fitting dedicatee?
    1. Lead Nastassja Kinski (whose boundless conceit and opportunism the director assuaged while boffing her)
    2. Gloria Steinem
    3. Judge Laurence J. Rittenband (LOL)
    4. Any of the above
  2. At the conclusion of the first scene, a local parson (Church) pivotally apprises our peasant protagonist’s alcoholic father (Collin) that the noble, Norman d’Urbervilles were direct ascendants of his lowly Durbeyfields. In how many instances is that datum reiterated during this story?
    1. 10,000
    2. 2
    3. 11
    4. Ugh! Too often
  3. Sweet, simple, saturnine Tess (Kinski) would prefer to moil her years away than exploit her beauty and luxuriate lifelong for high espousal. Ergo, she appeals to:
    1. Careerists
    2. Strivers
    3. Single mothers
    4. All of the above
  4. How does the viewer secern Alec’s (Lawson) rape of Tess from mere seduction?
    1. Her momentary resistance
    2. Her sheer submission
    3. This scene’s orchestral swells, transitioning abruptly from a minor to major key
    4. Her later acceptance of his largess
    5. Who knows?
  5. Those elements compensating for Brach’s, Polanski’s, and Brownjohn’s prosy, often bathetic treatment of Hardy’s dialogue include:
    1. An able cast obliged to navigate their plenitude of leaden lines
    2. Stunning, respectively foggy and effulgent photography courtesy of Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet
    3. Pierre Guffroy’s production design, which further beautifies every embellished interior
    4. Polanski’s painterly vision of landscapes, interiors and his most photogenic players, instanced by lavish long shots out of doors, or slow pans, as of a creamery’s milk dripping from suspended bags
    5. One gushingly romantic (albeit often misapplied) score composed by Philippe Sarde
    6. All of the above
  6. At her most morose, Tess assumes the demeanor of:
    1. Any dour teen
    2. A petty ingrate
    3. A goth
    4. All of the above
  7. Rather than to hypocritically disclaim, then desert Tess on their wedding night sequent to her confession, Angel (Firth) might’ve instead:
    1. Reconsidered her worth after consummating their marital union with a hearty feast and fuck
    2. Compared their respective premarital indiscretions to objectively assess their relationship
    3. Divorced Tess and remarried another of two comely, receptive prospects (Dombasle, Hamilton)
    4. Any of the above
  8. Which course of action would’ve been preferable to Tess’s madcap murder of the peremptory and prickish, yet fervid and freehanded Alec?
    1. To absquatulate with Angel without killing him
    2. To divorce Alec on the grounds of her bigamy without killing him
    3. To finally set aside her picayune moral pretensions and secretly live with both and maximize her romantic, sexual and financial benefit without killing him
    4. To contemplate the potential fate of her mother and siblings, who’ve been generously housed by her victim, so to avert his murder
    5. Anything besides murder
    6. Any of the above
  9. Polanski’s is the ninth among how many adaptations of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles?
    1. Nine
    2. Eleven
    3. Four
    4. Too many
  10. Notwithstanding the novel’s and movie’s commination of antiquated Victorian mores, a prolix blurb of the latter’s theatrical poster enounces it, “As timely today as the day it was written.” Why?
    1. Marketing
    2. Feminism
    3. Polanski sought to rehabilitate his tarnished image
    4. All of the above

Answers: 4, 3 or 4, 4, 5, 6, 4, 4, 6, 2 or 4, 4

Palatable: Ridicule

Ridicule (1996)
Directed by Patrice Leconte
Written by Rémi Waterhouse, Michel Fessler, Eric Vicaut
Produced by Frédéric Brillion, Philippe Carcassonne, Gilles Legrand
Starring Charles Berling, Jean Rochefort, Fanny Ardant, Judith Godrèche, Bernard Giraudeau, Bernard Dhéran, Carlo Brandt, Jacques Mathou, Urbain Cancelier, Albert Delpy, Bruno Zanardi, Marie Pillet, Jacques Roman, Philippe Magnan, Maurice Chevit, Jacques-François Zeller, Gérard Hardy, Marc Berman, Philippe du Janerand

“An aristocracy was […] by definition a class of both obligation and privilege, the one validating the other.”

–John Keegan, The Mask of Command

In the final days of his reign, Louis XVI (Cancelier) enjoys a monopoly ex officio for the dispensation of stingy subvention representing his kingdom’s terminal dearth of noblesse oblige, so the only recourse for a provincial baron (Berling) who meditates to restore the health of his province’s land and liegemen by draining its malarial swamps is a sojourn in Versailles, where he’ll entreat his regent’s largesse. A highwayman’s assault and theft proves felicitous, leaving the compassionate lord to the treatment, lodging and counsel of a marquis and physician (Rochefort) who instructs his canny junior of conventions and decorums: the application of moderate maquillage, necessity of nonstop frivolity, chaff’s optimum utterance, gaucherie to be avoided and joviality’s effect in tasteful measure. Though his peerage accords admission, only by the young nobleman’s plied talent for extemporized repartee may he petition the king after insinuating himself into the city’s stratified society: a periwigged and lavaliered, decadent and viciously vituperative gentry wherein a duke’s wily widow (Ardant), and a cunningly contemptuous abbot (Giraudeau) are to be met with craft by riposte. Waterhouse’s, Fessler’s, and Vicaut’s screenplay cleverly depicts the late aristocracy as a pampered pack of jackals sneering behind their pro forma facade of phony pleasantries and protocol, whose social currencies of jeux d’esprit and florid vitriol elicit and declass statuses. Their lordly despite is contrasted with the gracious charity of Berling’s baron, Rochefort’s kindly marquis, and the abbot Charles Michel de l’Épée (Mathou), a selfless pioneer of education for the deaf. Greater nuance is indued to an engaged couple who respectively import their failing patriciate and succeeding Enlightenment: stodgy and jaded but not at all without a distant sympathy, an aged, wealthy widower (Dhéran) is opportunistically betrothed to the marquis’ fetching and dexterous daughter (Godrèche), whose preoccupation with inceptive technologies is incarnated as her construction of and experimentation with a diving suit comparable to Freminet’s. Every sensible director of a period picture balances recondite authenticity with some accessible modicum of modernity, and Leconte succeeds here by stagily interpreting this solid script by a top-flight cast who emphasize without exceeding expression. As consistently funny as fascinating, painstakingly costumed by Christian Gasc and lensed by Thierry Arbogast in sprawling Panavision against and within the extravagance of Villiers-le-Bâcle, Châteaux de Maisons-Laffitte et Vaux-le-Vicomte, and Versailles itself, this fable of a cruelly corrupt, historical elite established by lineage and preserved with sex, wit and wealth observes one of its moral members striving to access a royal fisc and rescue his vassals, who suffer for survival and servitude.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Valmont.

Palatable: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Written by Lionel Shriver, Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear
Produced by Jennifer Fox, Luc Roeg, Robert Salerno, Philip Herd, Andrew Warren, Christopher Figg, Paula Jalfon, Lisa Lambert, Norman Merry, Andrew Orr, Lynne Ramsay, Christine Langan, Michael Robinson, Steven Soderbergh, Tilda Swinton, Robert Whitehouse, Suzanne Baron, Michael Corso, Molly Egan, Simon Greenall, Anthony Gudas, Leslie Thomas
Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, John C. Reilly, Ashley Gerasimovich, Rock Duer, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette

“It is not attention that the child is seeking but love.”

–Sigmund Freud

Nobody does, so the unbalanced son of a mundivagant author (Swinton) and her purblind husband (Reilly) grows from an unstill baby into an insolently incommunicative toddler (Duer), then a child (Newell) whose unchecked petulance finds expression in contumelious conduct and a refractory destructivity that hardens during inattentive and irrespondent years into the incisive opprobry and underhanded abuse by which he’s characterized as a teenager (Miller), and an atrocity’s augured. Her first visit stateside finds Scotland’s preeminent directress exploring what everyone should yet so few will after every murderous spree, picking the kernel of Shriver’s novel to condemn the excessive liberality and negligence typifying whatever presently passes for parenting, manifest maddeningly as pleasant lies, quiet reluctance from conflict, an absence of corporal punishment, acquiescence to pettishly puerile vagaries and unremitting disaffection, here initially attributed to postpartum depression, which aggravates acrimony reciprocally. Swinton’s anathema silently suffers public persecution as penance in the aftermath of her son’s ultimate trespass, and meanders mnemonically in flashbacks dreamily, anachronically interconnected as Leone prescribed, which demonstrate her failures to love, to chasten, to relate, to communicate, while her oblivious husband refuses to acknowledge but one of his son’s many misdeeds. Ramsay excels in the exhibition of commonplace frailties and their worst consequences, always guiding her leads to extremities without falsity. Her careerist’s frigidity and parental ineptitude are registered keenly by Swinton, who’s weirdly, unnecessarily, crinally and ocularly embrowned to adopt some maternal semblance to Duer, Newell and Miller, all of whom plausibly exude their malfeasant’s cunning and antipathy. Always approaching his dramatic roles with an everyman’s realism contrary to his famously clownish comedic characters, Reilly likewise creates without caricaturing his oafishly obtuse father. If only to preserve the primacy of their story’s pathological burden, neither Shriver nor Ramsay stooped to contribute to the irrational, pan-Atlantic, leftist “conversation” concerning firearms; by assuming the archer’s posture, their antagonist affirms the determining significance not of means but madness. Punctiliously cut by Herzog’s preferred editor Joe Bini, and swollen with sanguine symbolism, Kevin exposes without homily how abominations are conceived behind suburban veneers.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Elliot Rodger’s mortifying videos.

Palatable: Miss Granny

Miss Granny (2014)
Directed by Dong-hyuk Hwang
Written by Dong-ik Shin, Yoon-jeong Hong, Hee-seon Dong, Dong-hyuk Hwang
Produced by Jae-soon Chun, Heung-seok Han, Ji-yeong Lim, Ji-yong Hong, Jae-pil Lee, Ji-sung Park, Tae-sung Jeong
Starring Eun-kyung Shim, Moon-hee Na, In-hwan Park, Jin-young Jung, Jin-wook Lee, Dong-il Sung, Jung-min Hwang

“If youth be a defect, it is one that we outgrow only too soon.”

–James Russell Lowell

Like all other truly civilized peoples, Koreans enjoy retrospection and aspiration equally, simultaneously whenever possible. Its dualistic satisfaction ensured the domestically remunerative and internationally resounding success of this comedy, wherein a sprightly, splenetic grandmother (Na) calloused from destitution is rejuvenated by the thaumaturgy of a magical photographer (Jang Gwang), and promptly, peppily pursues the vicenarian life she might’ve enjoyed when she was a pauperized single mother with a refreshed haircut and wardrobe as the passionate singer (Shim) of her grandson’s (Jung) rock band. Shim’s and Na’s resemblance and replication of their widow’s saucy, superannuated manner are indispensable to both this pic’s profuse humor and sentiment, as is her inattention in transition from anile to youthful identities of the social liberty she enjoys in her latter years, or of her landlord’s (Park) enduring affection when flirting with a handsome producer (Lee) who truly appreciates her monodic fervency in an era of rote K-pap. Seoul now produces plentifully a caliber of hilarity and hokum Hollywood hasn’t since the early ’90s, if only because its industry (powered by talent rather than rootless mediocrities and politicized pillocks) values true beauty and felicity, without regarding familial love, loyalty and sacrifice as mere abstractions existing only to further a plot. At its shameless soppiest, Granny‘s as moving as elsewhen funny, as irrepressibly frolic as its protagonist at either age. Remakes have since predictably followed as Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian and Filipino transpositions, all inherently superior to godforsaken Big.

Sublime: The Leopard

The Leopard (1963)
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, Luchino Visconti
Produced by Goffredo Lombardo, Pietro Notarianni
Starring Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Romolo Valli, Paolo Stoppa, Lucilla Morlacchi, Rina Morelli, Serge Reggiani, Leslie French, Terence Hill, Pierre Clémenti, Giuliano Gemma, Evelyn Stewart, Ottavia Piccolo, Carlo Valenzano, Anna Maria Bottini, Lola Braccini, Howard Nelson Rubien

“To overlook forms a large part of the work of ruling.”

–Baltasar Gracian

Risorgimento looms ineludible in the twilight of a Sicilian principality, whose aging dynast (Lancaster) wisely resigns to an eventual abdication that impels his efforts to secure his posterity’s future by nurturing the democratic instruments of national unification and conciliating his moribund aristocracy with succeeding, ascendant arrivistes of the mercantile class. That former objective is accomplished via plebiscite, and the latter actuated by arranging the marriage of the prince’s unscrupulously ambitious nephew (Delon), renowned for his heroism as one of Garibaldi’s redshirts, and the ravishing daughter (Cardinale) of a wealthy, wily parvenu (Stoppa), whose bumbling bearing and tastelessness enshroud a rare guile. Readers of Tomasi’s grand historical novel shouldn’t expect from Visconti’s lavish yet conscientiously clipped and condensed motion picture a version faithful to its source: the royal family’s beloved, essentially emblematical dog Bendicò merely occupies its periphery; Delon’s and Cardinale’s amatory betrothed are recharacterized to satisfy a tidier plot, as is the regent’s shunned daughter (Morlacchi); the book’s devastating, final chapters depicting its monarch’s transcendental quietus and the fate of his daughters are exquisite in print yet unfit for film, and rightly omitted; existential contrasts of mortality and eternity, conclusion and continuity poetically expatiated in the text are merely alluded here. Within sumptuous interiors replete with masterly portraiture, frescoed ceilings and gilt appointments, ornate relievos and statuary, and alfresco against the natural majesty of rocky Sicilian landscapes, Visconti’s focus on the story’s erotic and political aspects effects and constitutes the core of its drama, as when the philandering potentate’s shrift father (Valli) reproaches his master for backstairs advoutry or verbalizes the Vatican’s solicitudes, a potential love triangle leaves Morlacchi’s virtuous princess spurned, and an organist (Reggiani) disenfranchised by the wrongful invalidation of his sole dissenting vote harangues the minor monarch who he reveres above all others. Played perfectly (albeit typically dubbed) by a choice cast attired in costumes fabricated by Piero Tosi with the same attention to the period’s details as that endued to Mario Garbuglia’s production design, each development unfolds at a pace as stately as its protagonist in slow pans and painterly static shots, its contemplations in stark silences as stirring as Nino Rota’s soaring symphony, repurposed as a score as fit as any other of the production’s elements, and breathing the 19th century’s impassioned Romanticism. Lancaster’s liege is a representative of royalty in extremis and homage to the author’s great-grandfather, who fully fathoms the mold of his people, value of quiet compromise and necessity of sacrifice for survival. Lacking the entire substance, pathos and punch of the novel, this nonpareil of Italian formalism still stirs the spirit in its evocation of a nobility and order lost to accession.
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Godfather.

Palatable: El Niño

El Niño (2014)
Directed by Daniel Monzón
Written by Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Daniel Monzón
Produced by Álvaro Augustin, Ghislain Barrois, Borja Pena, Edmon Roch, Javier Ugarte, Vérane Frédiani, Franck Ribière, Olivier Courson, Antonio P. Pérez, Harold van Lier, Jaime Ortiz de Artiñano, Jorge Tuca, Victoria Borrás, Jordi Gasull, Emma Lustres
Starring Luis Tosar, Jesús Castro, Bárbara Lennie, Eduard Fernández, Saed Chatiby, Jesús Carroza, Mariam Bachir, Sergi López, Juan Motilla, Moussa Maaskri, María García, Ian McShane
Fortunes and corpses accrue for routes plied and narcotics smuggled across the Strait of Gibraltar, repugned by Spain’s coastal law enforcement. This opposition’s represented by dogged detectives (Tosar, Lennie, Fernández) in a peninsular narcotics division straining to snag an unflappable speedboater (Castro), his skittish buddy (Carroza) and their wily contact (Chatiby), whose sister (Bachir) reluctantly renders abetment to find herself romanced by Castro’s dashing daredevil. Best when portraying methods, tricks and technology of its police and perps in procedural scenes and montages, this expertly shot thriller emphasizes the socioeconomic chasm between Iberian and Arab societies merely ten miles distant to expand satisfactorily on illicit cabotage in southern Spain, here perpetrated by rival rings headed by a barbarous Moroccan drug lord (Maaskri) and shadowy Slavs whose English surrogate (McShane) is too slick for conventional surveillance. As much for its quality production as its topicality, superb stunts on land and sea coordinated by seasoned stuntman Jordi Casares, and solid portrayals by both fresh and familiar faces, it’s well worth watching.

Execrable: Caught in the Web

Caught in the Web (2012)
Directed by Kaige Chen
Written by Kaige Chen, Danian Tang
Produced by Chen Hong, Huayi Cao, Ziwen Wang, Song Wei
Starring Yuanyuan Gao, Chen Yao, Mark Chao, Xueqi Wang, Hong Chen, Luodan Wang, Ran Chen, Yi Zhang, David Peck, Qing Huo, Ningyu Zhao
Obloquy’s inescapable in a corrupt and insular society, as an aggrieved secretary (Gao) in Hangzhou learns after video of her cool discommodity toward an old man on an omnibus goes viral. Neither are her employer (Wang), the opportunistic journalist (Yao) who publicizes the video, her intern (Wang) who shot it, nor their respective friends, families or colleagues immune from the repercussions of this infamy. That terrific scenario and the cogent social commentary it examples are ruined by the involutions of numerous, often incredible underplots to pad yet another of Chen’s disappointing features with approximately forty minutes. He’s still skilled as an actor’s director; his players’ performances are uniformly fine, despite his ludicrous story and maddeningly excessive editing whereby shots are cut from one vocalized clause to the next, appealing with apparent success to young audiences of a mean attention span that’s woefully meager. This isn’t the Chen who crafted brilliant, beautiful period pictures in the vanguard of the Fifth Generation during the ’80s and ’90s, but he who’s since shot rancid melodramas such as Killing Me Softly and The Promise, and filed with stupidly barratrous intent a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement against a frivolously comedic short lampooning the latter. Devoted fans may be pleased to observe his wife and co-producer Hong as the disgruntled spouse of longtime collaborator Xueqi Wang, both of whom enact a needlessly nugatory excursus with a dignified maturity exceeding the film’s. Yao supplies this flick’s most apropos representation as its sleazily unscrupulous program director, a role for which the perennially celebrated and unpleasant leading lady’s uniquely suited. Chen’s early work is echoed by a conclusion of elegiac elegance, which is sadly incongruous with the hour and fifty minutes precedent.

Mediocre: Nightbreed

Nightbreed (1990)
Directed and written by Clive Barker
Produced by Gabriella Martinelli, Joe Roth, David Barron, James G. Robinson, Mark Alan Miller, Michael G. Plumides Jr., David Robinson
Starring Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Hugh Quarshie, Charles Haid, Doug Bradley, Catherine Chevalier, Kim and Nina Robertson, Hugh Ross, Malcolm Smith, Bob Sessions, Oliver Parker, Debora Weston, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Christine McCorkindale

The prophet perceives the whole world in terms of justice or injustice.

–Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

His therapist (Cronenberg) was the last person to whom a welder (Sheffer) should’ve reported his dreams of larking, noctivagous freaks and monsters (Bradley, Chevalier, Ross, McCorkindale, et al.), for they’re just as perturbingly real, and ready to initiate into their haven tucked away in the Canadian backcountry anyone whose bloodlust jibes with their own. For all its ace artisanship and conceptual inspiration, Barker’s second feature (adapted from his novel Cabal) is defeated by its self-reverence and bathos, and far too silly to scare. Sheffer’s barely fair as a perplexed, persecuted protagonist, his strapping screen presence compensating for want of aggression his role requires; diametrically, doxy Bobby’s an aggravating ham opposite, especially when belting out a rankling rock song as frontwoman for a local band. Both leads are excelled by the villains: Cronenberg’s outrageously pestilential psychiatrist steals his every scene, allied with a Procrustean, provincial police chief (Haid) whose sadistic officiousness is matched only by the destructive overplus of the arsenal allocated him and the deputized yahoos under his command. However, all of this picture’s players are belittled by grotesque makeup with which scores of imaginative monstrosities are realized, and Steve Hardie’s phenomenal production design, best manifest as the modern industrial swank of Cronenberg’s offices, and a massive, subterraneous sepulture where the last remaining members of species eradicated by barbarities of homo sapiens reside under prophetic idolatry. Barker’s depiction of Baphomet assumes a countercultural import, allusively assimilating its downtrodden anathemas to the Knights Templar in as heretical a tale as anything he’s authored. His direction’s increasingly refined, but hasn’t the visceral punch of Hellraiser (or its first sequel helmed by Tony Randel), and it’s undermined as much by comedy as overperformance, neither of which Barker plies proficiently. Composed and arranged similarly to his synchronous scores for Beetlejuice, Batman, Darkman, Edward Scissorhands, etc., Danny Elfman’s playfully minacious music is fun but absurdly applied to nearly every running second, disrupting atmosphere and whelming attention. For this, misdirection, an initial theatrical cut of Barker’s butchered vision (since redressed in two expanded versions), and too many abysmal commixed with creative ideas, its mythologic and idolomantic promise is largely thwarted…and despite its excitement, it isn’t at all frightful.

Palatable: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
Directed and written by Werner Herzog
Produced by Erik Nelson, Adrienne Ciuffo, Judith Thurman, Phil Fairclough, Amy Briamonte, Andrea Anderson, Alain Zenou, Nicolas Zunino, Dave Harding, Julian P. Hobbs, David McKillop, Molly Thompson, Mark Allan
Starring Werner Herzog, Jean Clottes, Julien Monney, Jean-Michel Geneste, Michel Philippe, Gilles Tosello, Carole Fritz, Dominique Baffier, Valerie Feruglio, Nicholas Conard, Maria Malina

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

Thirty millennia after an incidental gallery of petrographs vividly describing mammoths, bears, horses, aurochs, lions, panthers, bison, rhinoceroses, hyenas and handprints were painted over the span of five on the irregular walls of a nearly hermetic cave in southern France, it was discovered by a trio of speleologists; a mere fifteen years succeeding that landmark find, central Europe’s weariless moviemaker and his ternary skeleton crew entered the Chauvet Cave to document its extraordinary paleo-artistic legacy. These constrictive surroundings are adorned as much with magnificent stalactites and stalagmites as their pictorial hundreds, and the cave’s value as a repository of many earliest extant effigies in human history, and an index of its age’s zoology and the Cro-Magnon’s culture has earned it a rare veneration and security. GoPro cameras and drones are efficiently utilized by Herzog to shoot, respectively, the cave’s ambulatory interior and the nearby Pont d’Arc, a natural bridge arching Ardèche River, efficiently eliciting an impression of its stone-age milieu. Expounding the surprising sophistication of its troglodytic artists, who portrayed their subjects with a resonant depth, motion and power, archaeologists Geneste, Monney, Tosello, Fritz, Feruglio, Conard and Malina, paleontologist Philippe, and the cave’s past chief of research (Clottes) and curator (Baffier) ably inform and contextualize by exposition and discourse with the director. Unfortunately, much of their metaphysical speculation and most of Herzog’s usual existential reflections are as extraneous, even risible as Ernst Reijseger’s fine yet overworked choral and chamber score, especially when it stridently sounds during what should’ve been a silent cesura after Werner’s narration piques a fascination for the cave’s seemingly enigmatic quiet. Commentary of this otherwise successful documentary too often presumes an improbable profundity in the conception of these graphic yet essentially observational images. As their simulacra evince, these were men who lived by action and instinct, not contemplation.