Mediocre: Home Invasion

Home Invasion (2012)

Directed by Doug Campbell
Written by Michal Shipman, Ken Sanders, Christine Conradt, Doug Campbell
Produced by David Japka, Robert Ballo, Ken Sanders, Douglas Howell, Tosca Musk, Christine Conradt, Timothy O. Johnson
Starring Lisa Sheridan, Haylie Duff, Jason Brooks, C. Thomas Howell, Kyla Dang, Al Sapienza, Barbara Niven, Taymour Ghazi, Jason Stuart

Synopsis

In the commission of a botched burglary, a career criminal (Ghazi) is greased by the restaurateur (Sheridan) whose home he’s invaded. His partner (Howell) is afterward walloped and left for dead in the wild by the deceased’s girlfriend (Duff), who then locates her burglarious beau’s killer, joins her support group, and exacts revenge by assault, arson, contamination of pine nut salad dressing, and swimming lessons for her target’s lubberly foster daughter (Dang).

Script

Shipman’s and Sanders’s story is formulaically fabricated to sequentially press every relevant button in the psyches of the alcoholic housewives, careerists, and cashiers of dollar stores addicted to Lifetime’s crime dramas. It’s a notch above most of its type simply because it’s less silly, notwithstanding the spoken surplusage of Conradt’s and Campbell’s screenplay. Naturally, this is all but a fantasy: intraracial crime committed by white Americans rarely involves breaking and entering.

Direction

Probably the most successful director in the stable of Johnson/Shadowland, Campbell heads this as procedurally as he has his hits in series such as …at 17 and Stalked By My Doctor. Expect nothing approaching experimentation or innovation from his workmanlike manner, and he’ll never disappoint you.

Histrionics

More often the victim than villainess in televised and direct-to-video productions, pouty Duff can twist her smile sweet to sinful at the drop of a hat, but she’s too cute to convince as a verisimilitudinous vehicle of vengeance. Good old C. Thomas chews his scenery as spicily as ever in his limited time onscreen, which is a treat for some nostalgists, who might notice that he’s at least 10 years too old for his role. He’s almost as entertaining when Stuart’s fruity chef peckishly reproves his crew. Everyone else is as unremarkably able as their director. Sheridan bears a striking similitude to Margot Kidder in her youth, but she hasn’t her personality, or personality disorders.

Score

This reviewer is all but sure that most or all of Michael Burns’s and Steve Gurevitch’s percussion, pianism and syntheszised synthpads are algorithmically generated.

Highlights

Spoiler: C. Thomas’s hapless lout resorts to squatting, survivalism, and subsistence on dog food through the first and second acts, yet he’s smoked straightaway early in the third by Duff’s schemer. A quick, requisite catfight between Sheridan and Duff precedes a sanguinary ending.

Flaws

Fulsome flashbacks and moronically explanatory dialogue are provided for viewers whose attention spans are so deficient, they could almost be diagnosed with anterograde amnesia. After trekking through miles of wilderness, C. Thomas’s pristinely white sneakers are clearly brand-new.

Conclusion

Neither will these trespasses view themselves, nor those boxes of plonk drink themselves. Enjoy, ladies.

Mediocre: Harlequin: Another Woman

Harlequin: Another Woman (1994)

Directed by Alan Smythe
Written by Margot Dalton, Jim Henshaw, Lee Langley, Lyle Slack
Produced by Ian McDougall, Jean Desormeaux, Jim Henshaw, Caird Urquhart
Starring Justine Bateman, Peter Outerbridge, Amy Stewart, Jackie Richardson, Kenneth Welsh, James Purcell, Elizabeth Lennie, Diana Belshaw, Meg Hogarth

Synopsis

Retrograde amnesia comes of concussion inflicted by thuggish muggers to suppress the memories and clear the choler of a rancorous restaurateur (Bateman), whose re-emergent geniality affords her an opportunity to rectify spoiled kinships with her handsome husband (Outerbridge) and teenage sister-in-law (Stewart). However, she’s stalked by a greasy acquaintance (Purcell) who in murderous malice targets her marriage.

Script

Dalton’s drama is typical of Harlquin’s formulaic fare, and translates well to these 92 minutes. Cozily romantic locales and circumstances, and the divulgence of a tragic secret, supplement her slightly skimpy story.

Direction

The professionally undistinguished direction of (pseudonymous?) Smythe is as unsurprising as unobjectionable.

Cinematography

Excepting some dreamt cutbacks uglified by selective decolorization in post-production, the bland warmth of Michael Storey’s photography becomes Smythe’s adequate composition.

Editing

Withal, Pia Di Ciaula cut this to a measured pace in an accordingly conventional manner.

Histrionics

Ordinarily obnoxiously oafish in Family Ties and dreck like The Night We Never Met, Bateman actually radiates a hesitant amenity as the amiable amnesiac, despite her plodding gait. Outerbridge has buttoned-down charm to spare, which largely offsets the leads’ lack of steam. Among the satisfactorily subsidiary players, Welsh is avuncularly appealing as Bateman’s suave psychiatrist.

Score

Emotive, synthesized strings, smooth jazz and portentous tones are all comprised to be liminally heard in David Blamires’s score.

Highlights

Her gradual recovery, recollections, reconciliations, and romance in Bateman’s severally palatial and rustic houses are ingratiating.

Flaws

Amatorian scenes of Bateman’s and Outerbridge’s spouses set early in their relationship star a couple who bear no resemblance to them. Two assaults are presented in blurrily unsightly slow motion.

Conclusion

Anyone familiar with Harlequin’s lightweight novels or televised features knows what to expect from any of either: lovers live happily ever after, but their trip is more important than its inevitable destination. Mike Nichols’s and J.J. Abrams’s situationally similar, unbearably saccharine Regarding Henry was produced on a tenfold budget a few years prior, but it’s laughably inferior to this modest trifle.

Mediocre: The Beaver

The Beaver (2011)
Directed by Jodie Foster
Written by Kyle Killen
Produced by Steve Golin, Keith Redmon, Ann Ruark, Dianne Dreyer, Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei, Paul Green, Jonathan King, Jeff Skoll
Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones, Riley Thomas Stewart, Zachary Booth
It never quite transcends its sappiness or absurdity, but Foster’s third directorial undertaking fixates with psychodramatic peculiarity that’s anchored by its discerning leads. Crippling despondency has immobilized a businessman (Gibson), isolated his long-suffering wife (Foster) and sons (Yelchin, Stewart), and nearly destroyed the toy company that he inherited. His attempted suicide fails, after which he finds solace and success by communicating with everyone through a manual puppet fashioned as a plush beaver — an artifice that restores two of his three familial relations, revivifies his managerial confidence and accomplishment, and admits an afflatus that he elicits into a bestselling toy. When his depressive symptoms recrudesce, his personality’s new aspect is viciously vitiated, and threatens to fordo its host’s headway. Vice and addiction are etched deeply into Mad Mel’s lineaments; his trials clearly inform the sensitively shaded intensity with which his tormented executive is personated. Foster’s knack for effusion of desperate empathy finds her in good footing among her fellow orbital foils. A subplot whereby Yelchin’s bright and fraudulent misopaterist is commissioned by a cheerleader (Lawrence) to ghostwrite her valedictory renders both as handily as it supplements a running time of 90 minutes, but it’s so cornily, collaterally discrete that its thematic congruity with the primary plot is at best tenuous. As for her previous features, Foster’s solidly workmanlike direction ballasts these and balances an often uneasy mixture of comedy and drama that isn’t helped by Marcelo Zarvos’s twee score. Killen’s delineations of clinical depression and the vice president (Jones) of Gibson’s firm as an adept, unassuming administrator (rather than the overbearing virago who flourishes only in Hollywood’s fiction) are refreshingly honest. Most contemporary American dramas are sunken by melodramatic contrivances that erupt between characters demarcated only by variances of narcissistic inauthenticity, but the sincerity of this screenwriter and directress shines through their mundane missteps.

Palatable: Standing Tall

Standing Tall (2015)
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
Written by Emmanuelle Bercot, Marcia Romano
Produced by François Kraus, Denis Pineau-Valencienne
Starring Rod Paradot, Catherine Deneuve, Benoit Magimel, Sara Forestier, Diane Rouxel, Elizabeth Mazev, Anne Suarez, Christophe Meynet
Prepubertal years influenced by his screwy, slutty, irresponsible mother (Forestier) lead to a criminal course through foster families, juvenile homes, stretches in rehabilitative facilities and briefly prison, to the ultimate reclaim of a teen joyrider (Paradot) whose precipitant recidivism is dishabituated with the ministration of his compassionate counselor (Magimel), his firm, boyish girlfriend (Rouxel) and a juvenile court’s judge (Deneuve) assigned to his decadal case. This is far better than Bercot’s underwhelming, antecedent On My Way for its moving, unusually wholesome story, and acting that subtilizes rather shallow characters. Deneuve flawlessly underplays her jurist to no disappointment, but neophyte Paradot is a standout who incandescently expresses callow rage, sorrow and tenderness without veering into melodrama. Numerous social workers employed at detention centers also play themselves quite well. Bercot’s and Romano’s barely didactic tale observes simply in its conclusion that paternity’s often an effective means of reformation.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Sweet Sixteen or The 400 Blows, especially for those who care to observe how much more lenience France’s juvenile delinquents enjoy 56 years later.

Palatable: Tenue de soiree

Tenue de soirée (A.K.A. Ménage) (1986)
Written and directed by Bertrand Blier
Produced by René Cleitman, Catherine Blier Florin
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Michel Blanc, Miou-Miou, Michel Creton, Bruno Cremer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Caroline Silhol, Jean-François Stévenin, Mylène Demongeot, Jean-Yves Berteloot
Joyance is rare in the gutter, where immiserated spouses (Blanc, Miou-Miou) languish until they’re enriched and debauched by a charismatically manic burglar (Depardieu), who seduces both after introducing them to his nomadic, intuitive pursuit. From the brawny bisexual’s schemes come prurient escapades through interrelational and epicene permutations, each more depraved than the last. Blier’s fourth film starring his (and everyone else’s) favorite leading man is energized by Depardieu at the robust peak of his powers, as a force of nature capable of channeling any vim, violence or vitiation that the novelist and filmmaker could conceive. The headlining trio consummate his rapid loquacity with a kinky elan, seamlessly vacillating between thalian perversion and touching tristesse, all penned and directed with equal elegance, and suitably scored by Serge Gainsbourg. Like Imamura, Breillat or Almodóvar, Blier elicits from smutty scenarios stories of remarkable inspiration; for whoever knows what to expect from him, this one is satisfactorily scabrous.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Going Places or Bad Education.

Sublime: The Wailing

The Wailing (2016)
Written and directed by Hong-jin Na
Produced by Suh Dong Hyun, Ho Sung Kim, Xian Li, John Penotti, Robert Friedland
Starring Do-won Kwak, So-yeon Jang, Jun Kunimura, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim, Jung-min Hwang, Kang-gook Son, Do-yoon Kim, Jin Heo, Seong-yeon Park, Chang-gyu Kil, Bae-soo Jeon, Mi-nam Jeong, Gwi-hwa Choi

“It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.”

–H. L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916

Attentive viewers (especially those versed in Catholic scripture and Korean folk sortilege) will best appreciate the innuendo of Na’s creepingly circuitous chiller, but such insights can’t conduce prospicience of its outcome. A village’s police are confounded when locals are sanguinely slain by ensorcelled relatives, who then succumb to grisly afflictions. This unaccountable spate coincides with sightings of an earthy, impertinent beauty (Chun) and an old Japanese (Kunimura), the latter of whom is a subject of macabre and concordant scuttlebutt. When the daughter (Kim) of the force’s sluggardly sergeant (Kwak) manifests incipient behavioral and dermal symptoms common to the doomed murderers, he’s desperate to interrogate both strangers. Refreshing restraint and professional calculation characterize Na’s masterly direction, which discloses minimally in slow zooms and pans as his plotted convolutions gradually unravel, without ever relaxing the intensity of his drama or action. By Kyung-pyo Hong’s photography, South Korea’s sylvestrian beauty is blazoned in establishing landscapes, and many figures are strikingly limned in silhouette and shadow. The cast is exceeding, but its concerted excellence admits of certain standouts. Kunimura’s internationally recognized for his versatility as villains and victims alike; his stony stare and mutable mien here sustain his loner’s imperative mystique. A dynamically antipodal approach by Hwang to a shaman hired by Kwak’s deviled officer informs his energic exorcism preceding the movie’s centerpiece, a clamorously violent, elaborate, apotropaic rite not to be forgotten. Kim’s metamorphosis from sweet schoolgirl into maledicted malefactor recalls Linda Blair’s most famous role — and she interprets it with analogous anguish and audacity. All of the seven deadly sins are committed, but their significance is primarily representative. Na’s moral compass is pragmatically oriented, indicating how obtuse skepticism, inaction, misjudgment, and hysteria result in a small, appalling tragedy. These misdeeds frustrate the talismanic and lustrative white magic that might’ve dashed demonomagy conjured by and thriving for vice, folly, and confusion.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Exorcist.

Execrable: The Chase

The Chase (1966)
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Horton Foote, Lillian Hellman
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Starring Marlon Brando, Angie Dickinson, Jane Fonda, James Fox, Richard Bradford, Janice Rule, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Henry Hull, Robert Duvall, Miriam Hopkins, Clifton James, Joel Fluellen, Martha Hyer, Diana Hyland, Nydia Westman, Jocelyn Brando, Steve Ihnat, Katherine Walsh, Marc Seaton, Paul Williams, Malcolm Atterbury, Bruce Cabot, Maurice Manson, Steve Whittaker, Davis Roberts, Pamela Curran, Ken Renard
Natives of only a few regions have been so frequently and grotesquely distorted in Hollywood’s productions as those of the reconstructed south, where a middle-aged, middle-class, terrible Texan trio (Bradford, James, Ihnat) crazed by booze and white privilege run amok in their town by harrying and terrorizing blacks (Fluellen, Roberts), drubbing their sheriff (Brando), and pursuing with intent to kill a jailbroken scapegrace (Redford) involved in a murder. A year before he and Warren Beatty focused the energies of and popularized nascent New Hollywood, Penn helmed this zany, overheated, overpopulated clunker masquerading as social drama, which condignly ravaged Spiegel’s career. Playwright and novelist Foote is reportedly renowned for the naturalism of his dialogue; one can only conjecture that both he and Hellman are responsible for the unbelievable, ostentatious kitsch invested in nearly every line of her script, and marvel that anyone in the cast could recite it plausibly. Among those so outstanding are Brando and Dickinson as the canny lawman and his liege wife, Marshall in the role of the town’s tirelessly enterprising magnate, and especially Bradford, who indues to his almost cartoonishly villainous banker a confounding charisma and conviction. Both are hopelessly miscast, but Duvall’s less inconsonant as a cowardly cuckold than Redford as a good ole boy named Bubber, cluelessly selected by Spiegel for his sex appeal. (Incidentally, Duvall played a cheated husband with threatening vehemence not too many years later in The Conversation under Coppola, who reunited him with Brando in The Godfather — for which Robert Evans also misintended Redford as Michael Corleone.) Approximately half of Foote’s characters behave like unhinged children, the worst of which are the most overpersonated: (ordinarily superb) Rule slithers sillily about as Duvall’s slutty spouse; Hyer hollers Bradford’s blaringly besotted wife into being; Marshall’s sappy, sententious son played by Fox is as disappointing a romantic interest as he is an heir; aged Hull’s a cornball, roaming realtor who chirps unfunny quips and peripherally insinuates himself into his neighborhood’s felonies; as Redford’s hysterically penitent mother, Hopkins irritates almost so persistently as Westman’s obtrusive, bible-banging widow. Like many movies drawn from stage plays, this is a twofold failure — stagily fake in the worst possible manner, but as overblown as its hams for cinematic liberties of gunplay and explosion. Foote’s story is fundamentally, indulgently horrible, its puny plot dwarfed by excess exposition and contrived complications, such as a pointless love triangle between Fox, Fonda and Redford. Armchair riffers will delight in an alcoholic party at the home of Duvall’s nebbish boasting some of the most jerkily wacko dancing ever committed to film. In the service of sinister sensationalism, this escape, advoutry, wassail and vigilantism might’ve been exploited as the unrestrained frolic of an exciting comedy; as a pontifical social drama, it’s a tremendous waste of histrionic talent and another of John Barry’s big, bold, blustering scores.

Instead, watch Cool Hand Luke.

Palatable: In the Name of My Daughter

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

“Certain loyalty comes only through dependency.”

–Richard Nixon, Leaders

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

Mediocre: Teenage Cocktail

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

Instead, watch Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

Mediocre: In Defense of a Married Man

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