Favorites: Le choc

Le choc (1982)
Directed by Robin Davis, Alain Delon
Written by Jean-Patrick Manchette, Dominique Robelet, Claude Veillot, Robin Davis, Alain Delon
Produced by Alain Sarde, Alain Terzian
Starring Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Etienne Chicot, François Perrot, Catherine Leprince, Philippe Léotard
Weary of his sanguinary craft, an urbane, veteran assassin (Delon) purposes to exit his lucrative billet in pursuit of legitimate forays to the reprehension of his employers, who apparently resort to extremes to recover his services. Few leading men were so apposite as Delon for the impassive suavity of his role, which he justifies with an understated, polished portrayal that indues credibility to his protagonist’s Bondian savoir faire; as the fetching spouse of a loutish turkey breeder (Léotard), Deneuve radiates vulnerable sensuality as his predictable love interest, and Chicot is again and condignly typecast as a dour reprobate. In concert with genre journeyman Davis, Delon enhanced the pedestrian premise of an obscure novel with an investment of slick action sequences, novel interiors, wry raillery and its gorgeous, middle-aged leads’ potent, prurient chemistry, elevating what might have been a routine suspense feature into a superbly engaging outing. For viewers weary of farcically hyperbolic action pictures, this may suffice as a refreshing alternative to silly drivel concocted by the likes of Besson or West.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Le professionnel.

Execrable: Black Christmas

Black Christmas (2006)
Directed and written by Glen Morgan
Produced by Glen Morgan, James Wong, Marty Adelstein, Dawn Parouse, Victor Solnicki, Steven Hoban, Ogden Gavanski, Kent Kubena, Satsuki Mitchell, Mike Upton, Marc Butan, Bob Clark, Mark Cuban, Scott Nemes, Noah Segal, Todd Wagner
Starring Katie Cassidy, Lacey Chabert, Michelle Trachtenberg, Kristen Cloke, Andrea Martin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Crystal Lowe, Robert Mann, Oliver Hudson
At the crest of American cinema’s hateful horror remake trend, Morgan shamefully begat this detestably deviling, uninspired retread of Bob Clark’s festal, deviously pioneering slasher cult classic, in which a bedlamite telephonically terrorizes while attritionally slaughtering the inhabitants of a sorority house, as showy, senseless, scareless dreck. Enigmatic spree killer Billy is loudly heard and scarcely seen in the original, but here fully, artlessly expatiated and disambiguated in extended, exhaustively expositional flashbacks that negative every last scruple of the antagonist’s mystery or dread. In lieu of the compelling performances, visionary plotting and operative horror that distinguished Clark’s movie from its many imitations, Morgan assails his audience’s sensibilities with spat, witless dialogue idiomatic of a Gilmore Girls episode replete with stale one-liners, Shirley Walker’s mincing score, CG flame on a roasted marshmallow and unremitting prognostics via cliched cues and composition of every feeble attempt to evoke fright. Martin’s the sole sorority sister of the precedent movie present, cast as Marian Waldman’s housemother and faring slightly better with her doltish dialogue than most of her fellow professed performers. Gorgeous, gifted Winstead and Trachtenberg also retain some hint of dignity as they tread the histrionic water of their characters’ kiddie pool; predictably, neither quite lasts an hour. Marred by a grating voice (with which she slurs her every uttered sibilant, often unintelligibly), the jutting anteriors of her meretricious mug and a downright destitution of appeal, Cassidy’s unfit as a supernumerary, much less a leading lady — a disgrace to her mad, masterfully suave grandfather — and can’t elicit a whit of sympathy as the designated Last Girl. A few gory enucleations, dismemberments and impalements are ably actualized with messy practical effects, but so idiotically ill-conceived that they scarcely warrant notice. Nearly nine minutes/one-tenth of this feature’s excruciating eighty-six were alloted to its end credits, in which a lengthy list of administrative and insurance contributions abound to eclipse those of its predecessor’s entire cast and crew as an appropriate emblem of this industry’s irredeemable dysfunction. Morgan persists in the production of pap, but thankfully hasn’t helmed a pic since.

Mediocre: Act of Vengeance

Act of Vengeance (1986)
Directed by John Mackenzie
Written by Trevor Armbrister, Scott Spencer
Produced by Frank Konigsberg, Larry Sanitsky, Jack Clements, Iris Sawyer, Barry Jossen, Jules Schwerin
Starring Charles Bronson, Ellen Burstyn, Wilford Brimley, Robert Schenkkan, Ellen Barkin, Hoyt Axton
Commissioned at the injunction of United Mine Workers incumbent president Tony Boyle, the execution of UMW district president and presidential contender Joseph Yablonski was a powerful catalyst that precipitated comprehensive reforms of his categorically corrupt union and the coal industry alike, and probably deserved a better enactment than this middling televised presentation. Coal miner’s scion Bronson is both ethnically and culturally felicitous as Yablonski, and Mackenzie’s technical direction is unexceptionally capable, but his guidance of the leading star is demonstrably feckless: Il Brutto acquits himself satisfactorily whenever he isn’t struggling to muster exasperation, but his delivery of poorly-scripted commination is amateurishly stilted, years after the likes of Aldrich and Winner aroused memorably livid grit from the screen veteran. Brimley fares faintly better as the fatuously venal Boyle, but can’t quite surmount his own schlocky dialogue. Ultimately, the ladies prevail in this thoroughly manful movie; Burstyn lusters as brightly as ever or possible in the confines of her part as Yablonsky’s staunch, steady, cultured spouse, and Barkin generates a palpably sleazy sensuality as the sluttish, conniving daughter of a UMWA official who obliges her husband (Schenkkan), a gutless gunsel and house painter who she’s cuckolding, to consummate the assassination with palaver and fellation supererogatory beyond his defalcated payment. Apparently intended as black comic relief, the antic ineptitude of Yablonski’s murderers is almost risible, especially when Keanu Reeves (in his adorable River’s Edge phase) accompanies them as an abettor on their umpteenth visit to dispatch the labor leader. Footage shot in Pittsburgh contributes to the production’s realism, as does its modest yet effective period details marred by only a few anachronisms (TV remote controls!). Most disquieting when adumbrating and portraying its protagonist’s grisly end, this account would have benefited from more revealing collocations of the union administration’s luxuriant lifestyles and those grueling of the proles they profess to represent; what glimpses we’re afforded of this contrast infuriate.

Palatable: Abuse of Weakness

Abuse of Weakness (2013)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit, Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira, Nadia Khamlichi, Adrian Politowski, Nicolas Steil, Gilles Waterkeyn
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Kool Shen, Laurence Ursino, Christophe Sermet
Compulsion trumps cognizance when a veteran director (Huppert) incapacitated by ictus relinquishes a small fortune intended to fund her forthcoming production to an infamous grifter (Shen) who she’s cast in a bloody lead role in exchange for his repellent consort. Breillat’s bamboozlement by celebrity swindler Christophe Rocancourt enkindled first her roman a clef afore this adaptation in abidance of her entrenched autobiographical proclivities, and seems as much an explication as a depiction of her muddled credulity whilst disabled. Once again, she’s exploited her recherche knack for casting an experienced, masterly histrion opposite a talented amateur as leads to tremendous eclat: Huppert perfectly realizes the throes of cerebrovascular and epileptic seizure (and all their debilitating attendant symptoms) with no less conviction than Breillat’s caustic humor in barbed chaff with Shen’s loathsome, calculatedly prickly fraud, whose noxious taste and apparently fatuous comportment serve to brace the dissemblance of his practiced guile. Huppert’s as identifiable as any of the anterior actresses Breillat’s selected to play her similitudes (Alexandra, Laffin, Parillaud, et al.) but her co-star’s portrayal courts condign calumniation: nobody could reasonably confound glib, handsome Rocancourt with the comparatively crude confidence man personated by pug-ugly Shen. If it isn’t an entirely satisfactory revenge, Breillat’s still devised graphically penetrative pictures of her maladies, the oddly platonic infatuation by which she was mulcted, and the maladjusted victim complicit in her own ruination.

Sublime: Dirty Like an Angel

Dirty Like an Angel (1991)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Pierre Sayag, Emmanuel Schlumberger, Nella Banfi, Robert Boner, Alessandro Verdecchi
Starring Claude Brasseur, Lio, Claude-Jean Philippe, Nils Tavernier, Roland Amstutz, Léa Gabriele
Lust is the fillip that incites indiscretion, aggravates acrimony and effectuates love, irrevocably altering the relationship of two sexist detectives: a gruff senior inspector (Brasseur) whose failing health actually prompts a youthful impetuosity, and his handsome, miscreant subordinate (Tavernier) neglecting his pristine, pulchritudinous trophy wife (Lio) whilst relentlessly whoring. When a drug dealer whom the former has long befriended secretes himself after cozening his rivals, the aging investigator assigns his inconstant junior to guard this fugitive’s family as he pursues his marital treasure, whose desolation may impel her to receptivity. Despite her characters’ concupiscence and vulgarity, Rohmer’s idiom is palpable in the thoughtful and realistic deliberation of Breillat’s final contrivance in concern of flics, handily juggling the drama of both police procedure and assignations as she delineates them beyond initial expectations; Brasseur’s cantankerous cop unearths a dormant, uncharacteristic tenderness, and Lio plays the demure object of his jaundiced affections as neither a retiring mouse nor one of Breillat’s usual brooding coquettes. Both the weathered leading man and pop star turned histrionic neophyte do their immersive script justice, rendering mutual seduction to adoration through vituperation with praiseworthy plausibility. Autumnal Paris’s cozy milieu and a potentially inceptive conclusion amplify the perverse appeal of this lubricious dissentient’s most restrained project to date.
Recommended for a double feature paired with 36 Fillette.

Favorites: Angel Dust

Angel Dust (1994)
Directed by Sogo Ishii
Written by Yorozu Ikuta, Sogo Ishii
Produced by Kenzo Horikoshi, Eiji Izumi, Taro Maki
Starring Kaho Minami, Takeshi Wakamatsu, Etsushi Toyokawa, Masayuki Shionoya, Ryoko Takizawa
Ishii’s repair to feature filmmaking following one of his distinctive hiatus was one of but a few fantastic flicks that initiated a renaissance of Japanese horrors and thrillers. Perplexed by a series of weekly murders befalling demoiselles poisoned with a common gardening toxin, Tokyo police recruit an accomplished criminal psychologist (Minami) to sift for clues in the apparent absence of these victims’ commonality or association. Her chief suspect (Wakamatsu, never creepier) is also her whilom lover and mentor, a radical anathema in the psychological profession who supervises a clinic wherein members of a buoyant and benignant cult are forcibly deprogrammed — from which the first victim was once a devotee, then his patient. It may be Ishii’s chef-d’oeuvre: thematic profundity inheres of every arresting shot, in which the master stylist’s exact and inventive composition accommodates gorgeous photography, an argosy of eye-popping devices and manifold haunting chills, cut with punctilious vacillation from deliberate to breakneck successions. Moreover, the trajectory of this plot is so awry to confound most prediction and any expectation, a refreshing mode for a morbid topic ordinarily depicted in trite and adolescent fashion. This picture’s entire cast yields fine performances, but the pernicious discomfiture that swells within and ultimately shatters the stolid guise of Minami’s literate, percipient eideteker is enacted with emotive yet nuanced expression, distinguishing her from the mass of her facile, photogenic peers. Ishii’s achievement pioneered a route further plied by his brilliant coevals (Kurosawa, Miike, et al.), but few analogous films have yet succeeded it, and Dust remains innovatory twenty years posterior to production — a condition that betokens the regression of genre filmmaking as much as his virtuosity.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Cure.