Mediocre: Strange Voices

Strange Voices (1987)
Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
Written by Roberta Dacks, Nancy Geller, Donna Powers, Wayne Powers
Produced by Nancy Geller, Linda Otto, Joan Barnett, Alan Landsburg, Howard Lipstone, Nancy McKeon, Greg H. Sims
Starring Nancy McKeon, Valerie Harper, Stephen Macht, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Millie Perkins, Robert Krantz, Robin Morse, Jack Blessing, Marta Kristen, Heidi Schooler, Molly McClure, Gerald Hiken, Fay Hauser, Gary Bisig, Micah Grant
Her ebullitions erupt in recurrence to strain familial and social ties when thought broadcasting and amplified, illusory voices derange an undergraduate of architecture (McKeon), whose parents (Harper, Macht), sister (Fisher) and boyfriend (Krantz) are helpless to succor her in schizophrenic throes. Riding popularly a year later on the coattails of Promise, this slightly stale, sober, televised drama satisfactorily portrays schizoid behavioral symptoms, their interpersonal, psychological and financial tolls, inadequacies of available medications, the failures of psychiatric institutions to address the disorder, and the prevalence of destitution and suicide in Kennedy’s and Reagan’s era of deinstitutionalization. Seidelman’s passionate cast hit their marks capably; at her fame’s zenith, McKeon exhaustively registers the frustration of every helpless patient who’s vacillated between racking madness and medicated stupefaction in poorly staffed boarding houses. Neither the best nor worst of so many topically correspondent productions, it’s nonetheless informative, and indispensable for McKeon’s fans.

Execrable: Bang Gang

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (2015)
Written and directed by Eva Husson
Produced by Laurent Baudens, Didar Domehri, Gaël Nouaille
Starring Marilyn Lima, Lorenzo Lefèbvre, Daisy Broom, Finnegan Oldfield, Fred Hotier, Raphaël Porcheron, Manuel Husson
Two strains of cinematic hack can be severalized by gender among the superabundance of derivative dullards who’ve succeeded the last great French cineastes in the wake of their attrition to reduce Francophonic cinema to a trendy, tacky, Americanized, globalist cesspit: effete epigones who strive and fail to mimic the likes of Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol and especially Pialat, and thick women arrogating the tone or style (without the substance) of Agnes Varda or Catherine Breillat. That latter camp produces idiots like Husson, who in turn produces idiocies such as her debut feature, which drearily depicts vapid, vacuous teens who bond at private, prurient parties over drugs, dull sex and duller music, until their local physicians sweep up after their venereal indulgences by treating them for incident outbreaks of syphilis, gonorrhea and at least one unbidden pregnancy, as though the repercussions of such debaucheries are purely corporal. Husson struggles to generate, or at least evoke a zeitgeist with adolescent pretensions embodied in postures and vocalized via clunky, narrational metaphors, but only ultimately betrays her own naiveté. If her young players are as jejune as her story, they can’t be blamed for roles that are almost interchangeably alike, only varying in how they miffingly mope. Besides, the most attractive among them (Lima, Lefèbvre) are annoyingly so, while the ugliest (Broom, Oldfield, Hotier) are visual indignities whether in conversation or coitus. It’s as responsible as a narcoleptic babysitter, aphrodisiacal as colonoscopic footage and personally profound as an episode of a reality show, but its parenthetic subtitle is accurate: this Modern Love Story radiates its directress’s limitless love for herself.

Sublime: The Romance of Astrea and Celadon

The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)
Directed by Éric Rohmer
Written by Honoré d’Urfé, Éric Rohmer
Produced by Françoise Etchegaray, Philippe Liégeois, Jean-Michel Rey, Valerio De Paolis, Enrique González Macho, Serge Hayat
Starring Andy Gillet, Stéphanie Crayencour, Cécile Cassel, Serge Renko, Véronique Reymond, Jocelyn Quivrin, Mathilde Mosnier, Rodolphe Pauly, Rosette, Arthur Dupont, Priscilla Galland

“Where love is, no disguise can hide it for long; where it is not, none can simulate it.”

–La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

Love rends, mends and fortifies impassioned, shepherding Foréziens of the 5th century for folly and affection in this charming condensation of d’Urfé’s classic, colossal comedy, L’Astrée. Dupery by one flirt (Dupont) incident to the fierce fancy of another (Galland) stings a jaundiced shepherdess (Crayencour) to jilt her highborn paramour (Gillet), who in rash heartbreak attempts to drown himself in the Lignon. A trio of nymphs discover him ashore downriver, then in their castle quarter and nurse to health the sheepherder with whom their doyenne (Reymond) finds herself unreciprocally enamored. Her fellow noblewoman (Cassel) frees the herdsman from immurement, then with her druidic uncle (Renko) heartens and edifies him before a Mistletoe Festival, where the adoring drovers may be reunited by an eccentrically epicene ruse. Rohmer’s casual, conversational, implicitly Christian manner is perfectly suited to the marquis de Valromey’s novel, from which all save a few of many parabolic excursus are here excised. Those judiciously retained vividly illustrate values of the seventeenth century transposed by its comte de Châteauneuf to the fifth: a dispute between our lovelorn protagonist’s stalwartly monogamous brother (Quivrin) and a ludic, licentious troubadour (Pauly) pits an amative argument for fidelity against hedonistic casuistry in promotion of polyamory; at a sanctified grove, Renko’s delphic druid skews from physiolatry to certify a monotheism for Teutates by relegating lesser gods as mere physitheistic personifications of virtues, and posits a consubstantial divinity that prefigures Christianity’s Holy Trinity. Two of the director’s perpetual performers won’t be overlooked by fans among his lovably lovely leads and their photogenic co-stars: one in three nymphs is Rosette, while Marie Rivière can be glimpsed as the reveling mother of Gillet’s straying swain. Late in life and art, Rohmer couldn’t have abridged a better story to example his final insistence that love’s as much fated as physical, or spiritual as sensual.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Love in the Afternoon or The Marquise of O.

Mediocre: A Dangerous Woman

A Dangerous Woman (1993)
Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal
Written by Mary McGarry Morris, Naomi Foner
Produced by Patricia Whitcher, Naomi Foner, Kathleen Kennedy
Starring Debra Winger, Gabriel Byrne, Barbara Hershey, David Strathairn, Chloe Webb, John Terry, Viveka Davis, Richard Riehle, Myles Sheridan, Laurie Metcalf, Jan Hooks
Even when it descends into maudlin melodrama, its gifted players and Gyllenhaal’s proficient (if pedestrian) direction buoy this seamy drama of manslaughter in a small Californian town, produced and adapted by his wife with a similarly uninspired competence from Morris’s novel. Winger believably creates by vociferation and gestural subtleties the ipsism of an intrusive, ingenuous simpleton, whose turbulent relationships with friends (Webb, Davis), a disreputable co-worker (Strathairn), her lonely aunt (Hershey) and a drunken, drifting carpenter (Byrne) in her employ confound and agitate her delicate, often uncomprehending psyche with tragic results. Many of the commonplace contretemps enacted are self-consciously stagy for Morris’s hackneyed dialogue, but in sequent sanguinary and sexual extremes, Gyllenhaal presses his performers to plausible potency, proving that they deserve a better story. Despite an intolerably twee score composed by Carter Burwell (when he was penning his best music for the Coens), there’s plenty to enjoy here, such as Robert Elswit’s warmly balanced photography, and a plenitude of familiar character actors; among others, Paul Dooley and Jan Hooks respectively peddle Tupperware and cosmetics. From and for Winger, this is to be expected: a premium performance of a modest role, trapped in a middling picture.

Palatable: Bluebeard

Bluebeard (2009)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Charles Perrault, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Sylvette Frydman, Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Lola Créton, Dominique Thomas, Daphné Baiwir, Marilou Lopes-Benites, Lola Giovannetti, Farida Khelfa, Isabelle Lapouge, Suzanne Foulquier, Laure Lapeyre

“Adolescence begins when children stop asking questions — because they know all the answers.”

–Evan Esar

Mutual malice differentiates Breillat’s companion to her surpassing, subsequent The Sleeping Beauty from most other portrayals of the gory, Gallic fairy tale. Two little sisters of the Fourth Republic sport with stories while browsing through a cluttered attic, where the bratty junior (Lopes-Benites) frightens her sensitive senior (Giovannetti) with a reading of Perrault’s parable. However, this telling strays significantly from that fabular classic: lovely sororal teens (Créton, Baiwir) boarded as a nunnery’s oblates in the late seventeenth century are dismissed by their abbess (Khelfa) after their father dies by his selfless heroism; his creditors leave they and their mother (Lapouge) in penury as abject as their bereavement, but Créton’s demoiselle leaps at a contiguous opportunity to wed a bloated, barbate count (Thomas) infamous for his suspected uxoricides. Once married, she luxuriates in his opulent castle while becharming her nobleman, until he intrusts to her his castle’s keys ere his leave with a forbiddance not to enter one of its many rooms. Every tableau of this picture and variance from its literary source breathes symbolical significance, and Breillat’s fans will readily recognize her idiomatic emblems in slaughtered fowl and accumbency abed, but the key to its burden resides in the thematic equipollence of its eponymous, crinally converse sisters. For art and awareness, the presumed “porno auteuriste” again succeeds where so many other feminist filmmakers stumble, not least because her acknowledgement of biopsychology negates the fantastic self-aggrandizement and victimization that ruined their movement. Any of Hollywood’s pampered, obese activists would’ve distorted this folktale as an example of thwarted patriarchy, but her barbarous lord and guileful bride instead effectuate gendered modes of rapacity, reflecting an incidental intimacy and attendant regret.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Breillat’s The Sleeping Beauty or those best among numerous adaptations of Bluebeard.

Execrable: Lift Me Up

Lift Me Up (2015)
Directed by Mark Cartier
Written by Franco Zavala, Aviv Rubinstien, Mark Cartier
Produced by Mark Cartier, Jonny Jay, Lisha Yakub, Jacob Patrick, Franco Zavala, Mike Montgomery, Lars Anderson
Starring Todd Cahoon, Sarah Frangenberg, Shane Harper, Maureen McCormick, Jonny Jay, Chris Browning, Kathryn McCormick, Gene Gabriel, Jacob Patrick, Madison Hargrove, Mallory Hargrove, Lexi DiStefano, Rafael de la Fuente, Antonio D. Charity, Gary Hargrove
Frangenberg isn’t a pinch as pretty, pleasing, plausible or lightsome as anyone who might clothe with appeal her role of a tetchy teen whose dolor for her late mother is expressed in flailing dance and shared by the stepfather (Cahoon) who she loudly and routinely vituperates, a fit yet estrogenically hypersensitive gunnery sergeant who attends a support group with other proto-menopausal widowers to vent his grief and craft pottery. Nearly everyone in this tame yet overheated drama is wooden, strepitently hammy or interchanging between either unwatchable extreme, obliged by dialogue as stiff and screamingly unfunny, from the mouths of characters defined either by insipidity or quirks as cutesy as Michael Matta’s mincing music. Zavala’s conflict is sloppily fabricated with unexplained absurdities: Cahoon’s obdurately obtuse Marine — who nearly deserves the bitchy invective he sustains daily — protests his stepdaughter’s daily transport courtesy of her unmistakably innocuous, quasi-nerdy inamorato manqué (Harper) without his spoken permission, but when she’s traumatized that he disposed of her mother’s entire wardrobe and other possessions in a previous, purportedly purgative scene without consulting her in advance, can’t fathom why he’d need hers (and nobody else cares); sororal twins (Hargroves) who’ve the demeanor of flamers coked to the gills and popularity warranting an entourage at our carping protagonist’s high school invite her to a party with presumed intent to humiliate her, then lose their minds when she smooches a cute classmate (Fuente) on whom they’d both designs; a sojourn at the home of her negligent and inconsiderate father (Browning) impels the aspiring dancer to her inevitable reconciliation with his successor, but a minute of this deadbeat’s sleazy presence raises the question of why she’s at all eager to reside with him. Their script exposes Rubinstien’s and Cartier’s categorical inability to pen compelling drama or amusing comedy, but much of the latter’s unintentionally manifest in Kathryn McCormick’s choreography, whereby the lunky leading lady and her classmates fling themselves about goofily. Some of that terpsichorean welter is prefaced by a metaphorically convoluted dithyramb delivered by McCormick during her cameo, but it’s never more hilarious than when Frangenberg pantomimes and thrashes wackily through a hokily interpretive routine onstage at a climactic competition. Would that this entire movie was as genuinely entertaining as its risibly tossing steppers, or that its hour of story wasn’t padded with nearly another fifty minutes of filler.

Instead, watch Uncle Buck.

Palatable: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010)
Directed by Dmitry Vasyukov, Werner Herzog
Written by Dmitry Vasyukov, Werner and Rudolph Herzog
Produced by Vladimir Perepelkin, Christoph Fisser, Nick N. Raslan, Charlie Woebcken, Thomas Nickel, Robyn Klein, Werner Herzog, Yanko Damboulev, Timur Bekmambetov, Klaus Badelt
Starring Gennady Soloviev, Anatoly Blume, Anatoly Tarkovsky, Nikolay Nikiforovitch Siniaev, Werner Herzog
Not despite but for their travails do the isolated inhabitants of Siberia’s frigid forests delight in rural survival. Vasyukov’s televised documentary of four seasonal episodes is freshly compressed and concatenated, lushly (if excessively) scored by Klaus Badelt and narrated by Herzog with his usual phlegm as a feature uncovering a challenging, cheerful life of denizens from the village Bakhta in Russia’s Turukhansky district, specifically those of rugged outdoorsmen (Soloviev, Blume, Siniaev, Tarkovsky) therefrom who handily eke out subsistence as trappers, hunters and fishers in the snowy, sylvan sprawl well beyond their little community’s bourne. During this region’s snowed spring, Soloviev cares compassionately for pups, curs, and seasoned hunting dogs alike of his doggery, fells a tree to split wood from it that’ll later be fashioned into skis, contrives by carving and sets from two slender trees a deadfall of cunning design, perorates of his methodology and tools, denounces greedily unethical trappers, and rehearses his first onerous Siberian season forty years antecedent, which he scarcely survived. Blume conterminously shovels towering mounds of snow from the roof of one hut among several outlying a central shack within his designated territory (a configuration typical of all the trappers’ winter dwellings), and collects firewood. While the vast ice floes constituting the surface of the Bakhta River (and Yenisei River of which it’s a tributary) begin to flow north, children of the village skate about on thawing ice before their community first celebrates Maslenitsa by dancing and burning a straw, female effigy of winter, then Victory Day a week later, when wreaths are laid at the headstones of veterans who perished in WWII. One experienced Ket craftsman and an apprentice carve, widen, temper and pay with traditional methods canoes from tree trunks that are then boarded on exordial expeditions to train pups for future hunts, and with submerged toils catch fish, the choicest of which are smoked to be eaten later. Beasts and greenery emerge in profusion come summer, when fishing yields jumbo pike, and hunters collaborate to construct new central and collateral cabins while beset by swarms of mosquitoes, which are repelled by a topical concoction of tar distilled from birch bark and cut by immixture with fish oil. With the aforementioned wood split in the prior season, Soloviev and his son skillfully saw, carve, steep, flex and temper several pairs of skis. Driftwood collected upriver is towed to the shore, where Kets without occupational options chop and load it onto a truck’s bed. Although this Yeniseian minority’s elders struggle to preserve fading traditions, its community is mired in poverty, alcoholism, and resultant mischances. During comparatively warm days spanning twenty hours each, plentiful gardens are cultivated and planted, greenhouses mended, and chipmunks, sables and malleting, grinding, sifting humans all collect pine nuts from cones. Late in the season, an incumbent, regional candidate campaigns by cabotage, arriving at Bakhta’s shore to tempt his largely indifferent constituency with a largesse of wheat and promises of reform before belting out a pop song with a trio of pretty female singers to entertain some congregated children and teenagers. Walls of stacked firewood, a massive harvest of fruits and vegetables planted months afore, and thousands of freshwater fish netted along the shoreline or lured by fire nocturnally to be leistered all portend autumn’s advent. As the great Yenisei River rises for constant rainfall, and before its surface freezes, the hunters load their sleds and snowmobiles, dogs and provisions into canoes to convey them to their shanties; in high water, the rapids’ fluxion often can’t be countered by these boats’ offboard motors, and exact for some such as Soloviev and his son manually arduous navigation. After they part, the elder trapper repairs damage inflicted by bears to one cabana, reposits there comestibles, shoots a woodcock and feeds its neck and feet to his dogs. While the rivers flow, pike are primarily caught to be fed to canines. Forbidding Tarkovsky (a junior cognate of Andrei) hunts and fishes with effectual craft, caches by suspension and elevation bread, grits, sugar and other aliments where neither bears nor mice can reach them, extols the simple pleasures of his lifestyle and sets mechanical slings to catch game. Soloviev expatiates on the ideal lineage, proper rearing, and necessity of dogs to any able hunter before one of his own predates a marten that he expels from a fallen, hollowed trunk. Winter finds the village’s anonymous blacksmith forging a sharp shaft used to pierce the river’s icy surface and enable more subaqueous fishing. During these most trying months of sustained yet stimulating slog, two events showcase the mettle of these woodsmen and their canine companions: fatigued after a day’s labor, Blume retires to an ancillary hut to find its roof marred by a downed tree, which he chops and removes before clearing snow from his roof to repair it with immediate and laborious effort during his dwindling dusk; en route on his snowmobile to Bakhta where he’ll sojourn with his family during its New Year’s and Christmas festivities, he’s chased over 90 miles by his dog to their home — a feat as formidable for the animal’s stamina as poignant for its loyalty. Vasyukov’s subjects represent a rustic society’s admirably hardy traditionalism, ably and objectively pictured here with fine photography and profoundly personal interviews that patefy an independence and integrity too uncommon in the developed world.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Encounters at the End of the World.

Mediocre: Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter (1987)
Directed by Marc Shmuger, John Bloomgarden, Arthur Penn
Written by Anthony Gilbert, Marc Shmuger, Mark Malone
Produced by John Bloomgarden, Marc Shmuger, Michael MacDonald
Starring Mary Steenburgen, Jan Rubes, Roddy McDowall, William Russ, Mark Malone, Ken Pogue, Wayne Robson
Shmuger’s and Malone’s admittedly clever reworking of My Name is Julia Ross was sufficiently dissimilar to Joseph H. Lewis’s mediocre noir melodrama and the novel from which it was adapted (Gilbert’s The Woman in Red) for them to circumvent both copyrights and any associative legal action, but the goofy, glossy result is only technically superior to its source. Later a failed executive of Universal Pictures and Luc Besson’s tiresome EuropaCorp, Shmuger was reportedly unprepared for his first week’s directorial difficulties, and hired Penn to helm this picture while his co-producer Bloomgarden did so intervallically. Nina Foch’s working girl lured though an employment office by a mother and her twisted son to their seaside estate, where’s she’s confined and publicly paraded as his missing wife, is recharacterized as an unemployed actress (Steenburgen) hired at a casting call by the vivacious valet (McDowall) of a crippled psychiatrist (Rubes) to perform a screen test at the shrink’s mansion during a snowstorm in upstate New York on behalf of a Canadian filmmaker who’s allegedly lost to squabbles his leading lady, to whom she’s identical. It’s certainly nice to behold: Jan Weincke’s sharp, brilliant photography is commendable for its distinct yet balanced contrast, exhibiting Bill Brodie’s splendid production design and sets appointed by Mark S. Freeborn and Paul Harding that emphasize the luxuriance of the wealthy mythomaniac’s manse and cozy modesty of Steenburgen’s apartment. Especially in dramatic worm’s-eye and lingering still shots, Penn’s usual craftsmanship is executed as adroitly as ever, and snappily cut by Rick Shaine. However, this particular journeyman’s inclination to grant his casts carte blanche has always determined the varied quality of his best (Bonnie and Clyde, Night Moves, The Missouri Breaks) and worst (Alice’s Restaurant, Penn & Teller Get Killed) movies. Perennial ham Rubes looks and sounds like elderly Werner Herzog channeling one of Adam Sandler’s zanier characters; he hasn’t a line too brief or gesture too small to overplay. Once infallible even whenever over the top (see The Legend of Hell House), McDowall’s instincts were diminished either by years of roles in B-features or Rubes’ influence, for he seems to be vying with the elder Czech for the blue ribbon with laughably mincing mannerisms. Steenburgen tackles three parts with gusto, but falters in two when attempting to maintain tonal accordance with Rubes. Consequently, the third act descends into a silliness that should’ve been suspense. For all this tale’s riveting twists, its production’s polish and a couple of appellative winks to Julia Ross, it’s largely ruined by Rubes’ gaping japery, and his co-stars’ attempts to meet it.

Execrable: Phoenix

Phoenix (1995)
Directed by Troy Cook
Written by Troy Cook, Jimmy Lifton
Produced by Dan Bates, Troy Cook, Jimmy Lifton, Morgan Salkind
Starring Stephen Nichols, Billy Drago, Denice Duff, Brad Dourif, Peter Murnik, William Sanderson, Robert Gossett, Betsy Soo, Jeremy Roberts, Leland Orser
Most of these rather languorous, fifth-rate fantasies that aired during afternoons of the nineties and early aughts on the Sci-Fi Channel (to the middling approval of children and teenagers) seem less produced than cobbled for prompt airplay. In this one, the bloody insurgence of military androids posted to a lunar mining colony provokes their manufacturer’s oily CEO (Drago) to dispatch a strike force under the oversight of his testy lackey (Dourif) to neutralize the offending automatons and their undersized honcho (Sanderson). Treachery, corporate conspiracy, psychic side-effects of the mine’s exclusively extracted element and a few instances of shocking ineptitude create complications substituted for any sort of plot. Nichols is blandly macho as the team’s commander, lacking a dash of chemistry with his dubious love interest (Duff). His team’s cadre are stock stereotypes: doomed black lieutenant (Gossett); tough hussy (Soo); brainish clown (Roberts). Usually a reliable character actor, Sanderson is here either deliberately stiff or merely sedated. Dourif’s contrarily seething overperformance is amusing enough, as is a single sinister note played greasily by Drago. Expenses incurred by what passes for this flick’s production design certainly couldn’t exceed any budget in the low six figures; most of the costumes are inferior to middling togs of cosplay, and off-world mines, corporate complexes and hospitals of the future respectively resemble boiler rooms, warehouses and dentists’ offices of the ’90s sparsely adorned with neon lights. Congruous spacecraft consist of adorably toylike miniatures and graphics to rival those in cutscenes of coexistent shmups. Excepting a few unintentionally hilarious lines, most of Cook’s and Lifton’s dialogue is as shopworn as their story defined by derivation; even the malevolent corporation’s eponym Rydell is suspiciously similar to Tyrell. This is recommended only for indiscriminate potheads and Dourif’s fans, especially those who supported the twitchy thespian before Peter Jackson revived his career.

Instead, watch Scanners, Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell.

Palatable: Tricked

Tricked (2012)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Written by Kim van Kooten, Paul Verhoeven, Robert Alberdingk Thijm, Anne Karina Westerik, Esther Schmidt, Kenneth Dingens, Tamara Bosma, Renee Van Amerongen, Martijn Daamen, Fleur Jansen, Sander Blom, et alia
Produced by Mardou Jacobs, René Mioch, Justus Verkerk
Starring Peter Blok, Gaite Jansen, Ricky Koole, Robert de Hoog, Jochum ten Haaf, Pieter Tiddens, Sallie Harmsen, Carolien Spoor, Ronald van Elderen

“Few men would be deceived if their conceit of themselves did not help the skill of those that go about it.”

–Marquis of Halifax, Cheats

Viewers of this brief feature’s first few prefatory minutes scripted by Van Kooten submitted thousands of continuative scenarios, from which diegetic devices were garbled, then integrated into the densely, tidily plotted shooting script of Verhoeven’s first good flick in twenty years. The semicentennial birthday of a shaky construction firm’s founder and CEO (Blok) is disrupted by attendances of his scheming partners (Haaf, Tiddens) and erstwhile, evidently enceinte mistress (Harmsen). In its aftermath, their revelations threaten to profitably unravel his professional life and business, but a backstair percontation by his stolid son (Hoog) and the flirty friend (Jansen) of his his dumpy, drunken daughter (Spoor) exposes connivance, though almost everyone involved is peccant for deceit. Staged, shot and acted with polished assurance at a brisk pace, this small production finds Verhoeven back in good form after his wearisome succession of doltish, bloated blockbusters stateside and in his native Netherlands, wasting not one of its sexy, silly fifty-five minutes, even if half of the twists recurring every five are too predictable.