Mediocre: Sex Doll

Sex Doll (2016)
Written and directed by Sylvie Verheyde
Produced by Bruno Berthemy, Bertrand Faivre, Soledad Gatti-Pascual, Rachel Dargavel
Starring Hafsia Herzi, Ash Stymest, Karole Rocher, Lindsay Karamoh, Myriam Djeljeli, Paul Hamy, Ira Max, Jeremy Bennett, Simon Killick
Not by chance do the paths of an experienced Franco-Algerian call girl (Herzi) and an obscure oddball (Stymest) dedicated to rescuing cocottes from their profession cross often in London, before her madam (Rocher) sends her and a budding bawd (Max) to a manse for a weekend when they’re to entertain wealthy clients (Bennett, Killick). Verheyde’s direction is compositionally satisfactory, but her mushy meliorist’s misconception of human nature — if not prostitution — is as inaccurate (though more naif) as the wholly transactional perspective of the neoliberal. Worse, its influence on her dialogue redounds to mortifying moments of outright ostentation during a few critical conversations. Ick! A current fixture of flat, footling French flicks, lushly photogenic Herzi seems less sultrily seductive than snoozily sulky, but she’s as creditable as most of her co-stars, bar scrawny Stymest, an unbearably stiff ham whose asinine tattoos and face render his self-styled savior more halfwit than hero. If the characters of this tedious Anglo-French production were as compelling as Verheyde’s developmental aspirations, she might’ve overcome her deadly pomposity.

Instead, watch The Chosen Ones.

Palatable: In Like Flint

In Like Flint (1967)
Directed by Gordon Douglas, Robert ‘Buzz’ Henry, James Coburn
Written by Hal Fimberg
Produced by Saul David, Martin Fink
Starring James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Jean Hale, Andrew Duggan, Steve Ihnat, Anna Lee, Hanna Landy, Totty Ames, Thomas Hasson, Yvonne Craig, Mary Michael, Diane Bond, Jacqueline Ray, Herb Edelman, Robert ‘Buzz’ Henry, Henry Wills, Mary Meade
Never one to squander singular success, David sped this sequel to Our Man Flint into production to extend his property’s lucre a year later, penned again by Fimberg with the same gratifying balance of action and comedy. Ruggedly rangy Coburn returns as enlightened, polymathic, coolly charismatic superspy Derek Flint, who braves federal soldiers, KGB agents, hostile environments and gorgeous ladies at a security complex of intelligence agency ZOWIE, on rooftops in Moscow, amid the rampant forestry and cascades of the Virgin Islands, in a cryogenic chamber, and aboard a space capsule in sublunary orbit to oppose a nefarious general (Ihnat), his presidential impostor (Duggan) and a cabal of distaff industrialists (Hale, Lee, Landy, Ames) plotting an artistic agendum to effectuate global female supremacy. One-liners, sight gags and gadgetry galore make this spy spoof a pinch more risible than its predecessor, dryly played with prowess by a game cast, and especially toothily indefatigable Coburn and Cobb as ZOWIE‘s defamed, bumblingly lovable chief. Directorial journeyman Douglas helmed this affair with deft disinterest; consequentially, Coburn and co-star/second unit director/stunt arranger/stuntman ‘Buzz’ Henry directed and performed plenty of its most exciting shots. This movie fits the bill for purely amusing adventure, but sends up institutional rigidity, women’s liberation and the Cold War with far more dash and wit than that observed in most cinematic satires. Third- and fourth-wave feminists are likely to loathe Flint and his second outing without grasping that Fimberg was poking fun at both sides in their endless war of the sexes.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Our Man Flint, Casino Royale or Batman: The Movie.

Mediocre: Fatal Charm

Fatal Charm (1990)
Directed by Fritz Kiersch
Written by Nicholas Niciphor
Produced by Bruce Cohn Curtis, Jonathan D. Krane, Douglass M. Stewart Jr., Chuck Marshall, John Strong
Starring Amanda Peterson, Christopher Atkins, Mary Frann, Lar Park-Lincoln, James Remar, Andrew Lowery, Andrew Robinson, Peggy Lipton, Ned Bellamy, Ken Foree, Robert Walker Jr., Shelley Smith
Fading starlet Peterson piddled the proximate twelfth of her destined fifteen famous minutes as an unconditionally unguarded high school senior garmented in frumpy frocks, who’s obsessed with a handsome goon (Atkins) on trial for six rapes and murders, and convinced that such a megababe can’t possibly be guilty! Following his conviction and incarceration, the lovable ladykiller’s menaced by hulking inmates, then tranferred for his safety to a county jail, where a jailbreak permits him to visit his pneumatic pen pal. A palatable plot and cast keep this forgettably tawdry crime drama afloat, but most of its interesting actors are stinted screen time and dull dialogue. Severally, Frann, Remar, Robinson and Lipton are all cast well to types in their roles of Peterson’s mother, her creepy boyfriend, a local sheriff and the trial’s prosecutor; Foree makes the best of his juicier turn as an intimidating convict. Prettier and peppier than her co-star, Park-Lincoln outclasses Peterson in all of their best friends’ shared scenes. Steamy seductions and slayings committed by Atkins’s homicidal hunk (including gratuitous close-ups of his victims’ T&A) are typical of Showtime’s sinfully sultry fare.

Instead, watch The Guest.

Palatable: Batman: The Movie

Batman: The Movie (1966)
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Produced by William Dozier, Charles B. Fitzsimons
Starring Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp, Reginald Denny
Holy collusion! When the Penguin (Meredith), Joker (Romero), Catwoman (Meriwether) and Riddler (Gorshin) assay to abduct nine delegates of an international security council and eliminate Batman (West) and Robin (Ward) with a weaponized dehydrator that reduces its targets to colored dust, the dynamic duo investigate and confront those four flamboyantly fiendish felons with their arsenal of chiropterously-themed weapons, vehicles, gizmos and solutions for every eventuality! Effectively an extended, widescreen episode of the gaudily deadpan, televised farce, this theatrical feature’s dotted by Semple with an argosy of his eccentricities: sight gags, cockamamie contraptions and punch lines integral to its plot; amusingly aimless extravagances; historical and literary references; fulsome fracases; abundant adnomination. Halting West and squawking Meredith are parceled and optimize his funniest dialogue, but all of these wry heroes and manic rogues make every minute hilarious. In routine conformity to the series’ style, Martinson frames the scoundrels exclusively in Dutch angles at their hideout, but reserves those exclamatorily onomatopoeic captions for a climactic melee upon a spheniscine submarine. Fans of the series have naturally seen this; anyone else partial to high camp is sure to adore it.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Superman III or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

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.

Execrable: A Reason to Believe

A Reason to Believe (1995)
Directed and written by Douglas Tirola
Produced by Ged Dickersin, Douglas Tirola, Christopher Trela
Starring Allison Smith, Danny Quinn, Jay Underwood, Kim Walker, Georgia Emelin, Keith Coogan, Christopher Birt, Lisa Lawrence, Obba Babatundé, Holly Marie Combs, Mark Metcalf, Robin Riker, Afton Smith, Joe Flanigan, David Overlund, Jimmy Kieffer, Mary Thomas, Michelle Stratton, Rachel Parker, Sally Kenyon, Andy Holcomb, Cary Spadafora
Generous hallmarks epitomizing shitty social dramas of American cinema in the ’90s are encompassed in this especially leaden waste of time: hideously drab raiment, furnishings and photography; a dire dearth of congenial characters; semi-coherent dialogue; maddening incommunication; a majority of (largely superfluous) scenes that tread water at a glacial pace; conflict between two unsavory factions morally distinguished only by the upright position of one assumed on repugnantly ideological grounds. Shortly after a university’s fraternity of sexist creeps clashes publicly with its equally distasteful feminist cadre, an imprudent student (Smith) in drunken, scantily togged attendance at a party held by the former is raped by a frat boy (Underwood). Initially, she hasn’t the backbone to confess this misfortune to her craven boyfriend (Quinn), nor has he to confront her assailant, even when he merely presupposes her infidelity. Humdrum hearsay and hassles drag tediously to the rapist’s expulsion from both his fraternity and college, and a presumed investigation by local police, after the ornery, opportunistic president of the school’s women’s students group (Emelin) obligates his victim to criminate him. As a feminist, Tirola was one of a few who pioneered America’s mainstream cinematic transition from feminism’s frequently illogical, yet often justifiable second wave to its psychotic third; as a filmmaker, he’s as lazily unimaginative and inexpert as any hack who’s exploited a controversial issue. Most of the picture consists of prosaic pans and fecklessly framed wide shots cut badly in alternation with close-ups, and well over half of the scenes in its half-hour of story stretched beyond 100 minutes are filler, such as classes wherein an overbearing professor (Babatundé) demands that his students parrot propagandistic platitudes in an unintended mockery of Socratic method. Performances are for the most part adequate, but Emelin noticeably struggles to remember her largely ludicrous lines, peppered with flagrantly false statistics and politicized prattle. Metcalf and Coogan are amusingly cast against and to types as the university’s dean and a stoner, the movie’s only likable people. In contrast, Emelin’s barracuda is somehow slightly more repellent than Underwood’s petulant rapist (essentially still Bug from Uncle Buck); that she expresses momentary glee upon apprisal of his felony for the advantage it affords in a neutral context suggests that Tirola’s just as sleazy as his deuteragonist. One of the film’s few praiseworthy points is its accurate depiction of casual rape, and it might’ve been partly redeemed had it explicitly cautioned young women about the dangers of unaccompanied carousal in certain venues, or advised them how to immediately report incidents of sexual assault to ease enquiries and arraignments, but Tirola shirks the social responsibility that his harridans demand from the opposite sex. Instead, this abominable agitprop promotes nothing save credulity to every allegation and the unattainable lunacy of social justice — always a disservice to anyone assaulted or wrongly accused.

Palatable: The Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project (1986)
Directed by Marshall Brickman
Written by Marshall Brickman, Thomas Baum
Produced by Marshall Brickman, Jennifer Ogden, Bruce McNall, Roger Paradiso
Starring Christopher Collet, John Lithgow, Jill Eikenberry, Cynthia Nixon, John Mahoney, Abraham Unger, JD Cullum, Manny Jacobs, Charles Fields, Eric Hsiao, Robert Sean Leonard, David Quinn, Geoffrey Nauffts, Trey Cummins, Fred Melamed

“When the bomb is detonated in the middle of a city, it is as though a small piece of the sun has been instantly created.”

–Philip Morrison, 1945.12.6

Some opportunities are more obvious than others, swelled as their salience seems for pique, pressure and perspective. An upcoming annual science fair in his native New York and the courtship of his mother (Eikenberry) by a nuclear physicist (Lithgow) inspire a mischievous teen genius (Collet) to pilfer particularly potent plutonium from a newly-erected laboratory where the elder egghead’s employed as a supervisor. Late in the Cold War, what could be a more relevant and impressive project than a personal nuclear bomb? Woody Allen’s most conventionally inventive collaborator bravely bares both his flair and failings in this underrated science fiction, which compulsively supposes a potentially explosive confluence of adolescent recklessness and the intellectual allure of dangerous technologies. Brickman’s direction and script are equally fine, farced with witty dialogue and a satisfying romance between Collet’s whiz kid and his co-conspirator/emergent girlfriend (Nixon). Withal, a couple of Brickman’s and Baum’s best scenes are all but speechless, such as their protagonist’s infiltration of the laboratory and abstraction of radioactive specks suspended in gelled scintillant therein, executed with two Frisbees, an RC toy truck, and a catoptric array emplaced to direct the facility’s powerful laser beam. His bomb’s construction during a mandatory montage is fascinating enough to overcome the implausibility of its safety, and with quips and action aplenty, these proceedings are swiftly paced and tonally balanced. When a joint team of federal agents and military officials led by a suspicious Lieutenant Colonel (Mahoney) investigate Collet’s homemade doomsday device, that playful parity of humor and suspense is sustained surprisingly well to a slightly sloppy but charming conclusion. The main theme of Philippe Sarde’s jaunty score is derived equally from his autoplagiarized love theme in Le Choc and The First Noel, and subjected to numerous, cleverly melodic variations. For none of its few flaws did this ambitious feature deserve its critical and commercial failure.

Recommended for a double feature paired with WarGames.

Execrable: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Directed by Marielle Heller
Written by Phoebe Gloeckner, Marielle Heller
Produced by Miranda Bailey, Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Madeline Samit, Debbie Brubaker, Corentin De Saedeleer, Shani Geva, Amanda Marshall, Amy Nauiokas, Michael Sagol, Jorma Taccone
Starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig, Madeleine Waters, Abby Wait, Austin Lyon, Christopher Meloni, Margarita Levieva, Carson Mell, John Parsons, Quinn Nagle
In a fraction of the time trifled to view this plodding drama (adapted from one among umpteen interchangeable graphic bildungsromans authored and illustrated by introspective nudnicks), one could instead dive headfirst into a wading pool to experience a comparable depth and discomfort suffered. A homely, naive, adolescent cartoonist (Powley) in 1976 San Francisco doodles ceaselessly, idolizes Aline Kominsky, languishes in self-absorbed insecurity, and thrills to initial trysts with the sordid boyfriend (Skarsgård) of her sluttish, alcoholic single mother (Wiig), then a cute classmate (Lyon) unprepared for her lasciviousness. Successive clichés compose the bulk of Gloeckner’s quasi-autobiographical pablum: teenage defloration with an adult, animated sketches conveying immediate passions, a miff with responsibly uncool dad (Meloni), Mom’s coked-up capers and dancing wassails, a midnight screening of Rocky Horror, sapphic and whorish dalliances with skanky friends (Waters, Levieva), a fanciful acid trip, and that requisite assertion of feminine independence, which has for decades empowered and enkindled privileged white women the world over to irreparably wreck their lives. Mustachioed Skarsgård and ginchy Wiig lend odious believability to their roles as the sort of unseemly couple with whom anyone’s boomer parents might’ve made acquaintance, but Powley and some of her coetaneous co-stars too often diverge from naturalism to overact. Passable production design by Jonah Markowitz benefits from exteriors shot on location in San Fran, Carmen Grande’s largely hideous, accurate costumery and Emily K. Rolph’s nostalgically tacky appointments. However, Susan Alegria’s set decoration spoils each interior’s realism with a surplusage of the latter, arranged as characteristically millennial clutter uncommon in middle-class households of the shaggy ’70s. Everything in this unfunny, unsexy story has been done exhaustively before with a proficiency and profundity to which tasteless Gloeckner and Heller merely aspire, but if nothing else, it’s a fine reminder first of how tired the illogic, postures, dysfunction and repercussions of the sexual revolution and its creaky counterculture have become, and second just how effortlessly one can separate visionary rips (like Crumb or Kominsky) from commonplace degenerates, most of whom are as noisily boring as they’re portrayed here.

Instead, watch Slums of Beverly Hills.

Execrable: Liquid Sky

Liquid Sky (1982)
Directed by Slava Tsukerman
Written by Slava Tsukerman, Nina V. Kerova, Anne Carlisle
Produced by Slava Tsukerman, Nina V. Kerova, Robert Field
Starring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady, Elaine C. Grove, Stanley Knapp, Jack Adalist, Lloyd Ziff, Roy MacArthur, Sara Carlisle
Squalid tommyrot ensues after a little flying saucer lights upon the roof of a tiny penthouse occupied by a fashion model (Carlisle) and a performance artist (Sheppard), and proceeds to terminate numerous sleazeballs therein by harvesting their endorphins during orgasms or narcotic highs. Tsukerman’s script, direction, production and editing are aggravatingly amateurish, but the Soviet expatriate’s slipshod execution slipped the attention of gaumless hipsters, junkies and critics whose patronage made this stupid, slapdash sci-fi the most successful independent feature of 1983. Lenna Rashkovsky-Kaleva’s, Marcel Fiévé’s and Chris Evans’s imaginative makeup, flashy costumes fashioned by Marina Levikova, Yuri Neyman’s and Oleg Chichilnitsky’s briefly intriguing special effects and a few amusing moments can’t at all compensate for how poorly this picture was shot, cut, scored and performed. Carlisle woodenly created dual male and female roles as though to stress her absence of charisma as either, but she isn’t a tenth as nettlesome as Sheppard, who plays her pretentiously pettish poet with the condescending comportment of a villainess from a children’s cartoon. Despite their heroin chic, Tsukerman’s one-dimensional characters — inspired by his superficial conception of NYC’s new wave — are as crudely unsophisticated as his style. His movie’s consequently edgy in the tiresome manner of huffy teenagers transported in their mom’s minivan to a performance by Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM or Type O Negative, circa 1996. Fatuous whenever it’s supposed to be clever, this is unique in the worst way, for the ingenuity of so many unappealingly bad ideas. Eschew it for the sake of precious time and forbearance.

Instead, watch I Come in Peace.

Palatable: Shallow Grave

Shallow Grave (1994)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by John Hodge
Produced by Andrew Macdonald, Allan Scott
Starring Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, Colin McCredie, Peter Mullan, Leonard O’Malley

“Greed is in: guilt is out.”

–Anonymous, 1987

Applicants of Edinburgh seeking a room let in the ample apartment shared by a journalist (McGregor), a doctor (Fox) and an accountant (Eccleston) are by them subjected to a battery of jocose harassment and irritating interrogation, until a unflappably affable, purported novelist (Allen) impresses them with his sangfroid and a thick wad of bills for deposit and lodging. He perishes not a fortnight into his stay from heroin habituated, leaving his flatmates his corpse, a suitcase packed with cash, and their concomitant millstones: mounting anxiety, an inquirendo conducted by a sardonically subtle detective (Stott), and an eventual visit from a pair of truculent thugs (Mullan, O’Malley) who wouldn’t think to let a few murders come between them and a small, stolen fortune. Still at the crown of their careers — and superior to the wildly overrated Trainspotting — Boyle’s and Hodge’s sharp, spare first feature was smoothly scripted and shot on a small budget to a deservedly warm reception. Pans at every common focal length and a modicum of gimmicky shots are as fun as raillery between the protagonal buddies before and after their relations sour, without ever diverting from terrific performances that propel every scene. One can’t readily imagine anyone better suited severally to play this flick’s queasy creep or obnoxious charmer than Eccleston and McGregor, and Allen quietly steals his few scenes, especially in discourse with Fox, who masterfully balances bitchy jest with glimpses of an underhand frigidity. Unfailingly funny and suspenseful, this umpteenth version of Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale instances how avariciousness and paranoia among some depredates friendships and lives alike.