Palatable: Weekend of a Champion

Weekend of a Champion (1972, 2013)
Directed by Frank Simon, Roman Polanski
Written by Frank Simon
Produced by Roman Polanski, Mark Stewart, Timothy Burrill
Starring Jackie Stewart, Helen Stewart, Roman Polanski, Ken Tyrrell

“There are other things in Monaco, and the other things are not a mere sideshow of the Casino. The Casino itself continues progressively to become the sideshow, a relic of a Golden Age that is irrecoverable. Monte Carlo is the place where the motor rally is held, where international conferences meet in the functional new centres, where Cousteau pursues his oceanographical researches. It is the place where people come to start businesses, unhindered by a crippling tax system that seems, to most of us, to represent a more terrible immorality than could ever be attached to merely spinning a roulette wheel.”

–Anthony Burgess, The Ball is Free to Roll, 1978

On the curving Circuit de Monaco in preparatory reconnaisance, in a garage where he confers with his sponsor Ken Tyrrell, engineers and other members of his pit crew as they tune and adjust his custom-built Tyrrell 003 to his scrupulous satisfaction, fraternizing with fans who won a contest by Monte Carlo’s harbor, speeding through a Formula 3 practice run to maintain his pole position, dining at the spicy birthday party of interwar racing champion Louis Chiron, discussing subtleties of his hazardous craft with Polanski as they share a ritzy breakfast in his hotel suite, and constantly accompanied by his wife Helen, Formula 1’s lovably loquacious and Falstaffian superstar Jackie Stewart basks anxiously in Monaco in May, 1971 during a few days anteceding his second of three blistering wins at the Monaco Grand Prix. Simon’s and Polanski’s immersive direction yields an absolutely absorbing portrait of the famed racer, his friendship with Romek, and a momentous victory concluding the Grand Prix that’s shot and cut with thrilling pizzazz. Other highlights include: over-the-shoulder shots of Stewart’s rainy trial drive along the Monégasque course’s tight hairpins, strategic chicanes, disorienting tunnel and varied elevations; the champ’s exposition of his meticulous methodology and its delicate techniques; fleeting footage of his competing protégé, the dashing and tragic François Cevert; congenial confabulation with Graham Hill, who’s here still a formidable rival, if a couple years past his celebrated prime; a fete hosted by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace also attended by Joan Collins and Ringo Starr, et al. An epilog suffixed to the recut, remixed re-release by Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment finds Stewart and Polanski contemporarily contemplating spectacular (and often spectacularly survived) crashes, miraculous advances in safety for motorsports credited to improved practices, tracks, medical facilities, and automotive engineering that he’s insistently boosted for years (after an outrageous crash at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in 1966), Stewart’s dyslexia that was diagnosed well after his racing career had ended, the development of Monte Carlo’s local industry and enlarged harbor, and its anfractuous track’s gently graded curbs and brighter, longer tunnel — luxuries he and his competitors weren’t afforded forty years before. Much of this may not engage laymen, but for fans of Formula 1, sociable Stewart, or Polanski, it’s one among several indispensable historical records of colorful cynosures prosecuting the twentieth century’s fastest fatal bloodsport.

Palatable: Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz (2007)
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Produced by Ronaldo Vasconcellos, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nira Park, Karen Beever, Natascha Wharton
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall, Olivia Colman, Kevin Eldon, Stuart Wilson, Edward Woodward, Anne Reid, Adam Buxton, Billie Whitelaw, Rory McCann, Karl Johnson, Eric Mason, Kenneth Cranham, David Threlfall, Lucy Punch, Paul Freeman, Ron Cook, Peter Wight, Julia Deakin, Trevor Nichols, Elizabeth Elvin, Bill Bailey, Tim Barlow, Lorraine Hilton, Patricia Franklin, Ben McKay, Alice Lowe, David Bradley, Maria Charles, Robert Popper, Joe Cornish, Chris Waitt, Stephen Merchant
Wright’s comedies elicit overvaluation from the magnifying pathologies of approving British audiences, but they do meet a demand for nimble humor that Hollywood can no longer produce. Shaun of the Dead hardly met its hype, but this follow-up — an uproarious lampoon of overcooked actioners by the likes of Tony Scott, John Woo, Michael Bay, Guy Ritchie, et al. — merits its repute. From London, an accomplished, finical sergeant (Pegg) is transferred for his inconvenient superiority to a goofily idyllic village in Gloucestershire, where he’s partnered with the oafish son (Frost) of his constabulary’s chief (Broadbent). He chances instanter upon delinquency, deplorable dramatics, an overabundant arsenal, and a spate of murders that befall some of the locality’s notables — mistaken as mischances by his unskilled and complacent colleagues (Considine, Spall, Colman, Eldon, Johnson) — just beneath a provincial veneer nurtured by its hospitable businessmen (Dalton, Wilson, Woodward, Whitelaw, Mason, Cranham, Freeman, Wight, Deakin, Nichols, Elvin). Pegg’s again cast well to type as an authoritative straight man opposite clownish co-stars, funniest among whom are dopey Frost and vulpecular Dalton, who steals his every scene as a conspicuously sinister supermarketeer. That Welshman’s fellow old hands play up their quaint parts with as much esprit as the director’s usual collaborators; Whitelaw is meted a few droll scenes for her final appearance. Fans of Wright’s circle will also enjoy snappy cameos by Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy as the overachieving officer’s injudicious top brass. One might expect from most Anglophonic, contemporary cinematic comedies an hors d’oeuvre of occasional laughs; here, Wright’s and Pegg’s story serves a full course of hilarity, whose thousands of frantically cut shots are crammed with one-liners, sight gags, prefigurations and adversions intrinsic and extrinsic, many of which rely on the cunning casting of its older players. Featured clichés of the targeted genre include ostentatious rising pans and rotating shots, overzealous foley, digital blood, and dumb catchphrases. Whether they enjoy or abhor tasteless action pictures, this is recommended for whomever can stomach its multiple bloody homicides, especially Britons who need two hours of respite from metropolitan police farcically focused on trifling offenses, if only to divert public attention from their failures to curb violent crime.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Burn After Reading.

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: Tracks

Tracks (1976)
Written and directed by Henry Jaglom
Produced by Howard Zuker, Elliot S. Blair, Irving Cohen, Ted Shapiro, Bert Schneider
Starring Dennis Hopper, Taryn Power, Dean Stockwell, Zack Norman, Michael Emil, Barbara Flood, Topo Swope, Alfred Ryder
From Santa Fe to his unspecified hometown somewhere in New England, a shell-shocked Army sergeant (Hopper) escorts the coffin of a fallen friend on a train where he meets a flirtatious oddity (Stockwell), a pushy peddler of realty (Norman) bantering with a chattering accountant (Emil) prepossessed with chess and sexology, one perrerating lady (Flood), and a sweet student (Power) with whom he’s enamored straightway. Jaglom’s second feature is the first produced during the immediate postwar years to address the adversities of veterans, and breathes the ardent, aimless anomy intrinsical to the climate of the ’70s. Hopper’s a cut above the great supporting cast, born to play the jittery, erratic officer whose hallucinative episodes confront him with his own penitence, nostalgia and violence. The late Stockwell meets expectations by precipitating himself from breezy geniality to desperate frenzy, and Power’s tender turn as the pretty innocent serves to highlight Hopper’s temperamental tirrets. Much of the dialogue is naturalistically extemporized; together and separately, producer Norman (A.K.A. Zuker), and Jaglom’s brother Emil are fully, pricelessly unscripted, portending their chaffing collaborations in the filmmaker’s several sequent comedies. Cameos by Alfred Ryder, Richard Romanus, Cayle Chernin, Paul Williams and Sally Kirkland are as amusive as appearances by real stewards and soldiers on the Amtrak trains from which Jaglom and his cast and crew were often ousted. His approaches to photography and histrionics correspond, as Jaglom shot players and passing locales in picturesque natural light, silhouette and shade. Only a few years before Coppola qualified it as box office gold for over a decade, popular aversion to the subject of the war prevented this movie’s theatrical distribution, but as a depiction of the traumatized soldier to become a cinematic archetype, and an unspoken reflection on the United States’s morbidly optimistic addiction to war in the 20th century, it’s yet to be bettered.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Apocalypse Now or The American Friend.

Palatable: Eyewitness

Eyewitness (1981)
Directed by Peter Yates
Written by Steve Tesich
Produced by Peter Yates, Kenneth Utt
Starring William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Plummer, James Woods, Steven Hill, Morgan Freeman, Pamela Reed, Kenneth McMillan, Irene Worth, Albert Paulsen, Keone Young, Chao Li Chi, Alice Drummond
Burdened by supernumerary character development, Yates’s and Tesich’s second coaction after Breaking Away doesn’t quite compass its potential as a murder mystery or a romance. A janitor (Hurt) employed at a palatial office building reports the murder of a businessman (Chi) who’d leased an office therein to two cynical detectives (Hill, Freeman), who correctly suspect his maniacal buddy (Woods) of means, motive and opportunity. Their case is complicated by the unsophisticated custodian’s incomplete disclosure — recounted first to them, then to a fetching news reporter and chamber pianist (Weaver), who’s enticed by the prospect of breaking a story that’s closer to home than she imagined. Tesich’s story is timely and absorbing, but his script’s plagued by his zeal to humanize nearly every single character with at least one deepy personal, expository monologue or discourse — all of which are delivered so well by Yates’s eximious ensemble that one almost doesn’t notice this superfluous sentiment. Singly fresh from Altered States and Alien, Hurt and Weaver effortlessly inhabit proper parts with charm and conviction, but their shortage of chemistry does nothing to make their amorous developments seem any more probable. Woods hyperactively betokens some of his best work to come as the volatile Vietnam vet who drives the plot. Most notable for its population of established and ascending stars, this one almost hits its mark, and almost satisfies.

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.

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.

Palatable: Valley of Love

Valley of Love (2015)
Written and directed by Guillaume Nicloux
Produced by Catalina Restrepo, Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon, Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Genevieve Lemal, Patrick Batteux
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, Dan Warner, Aurélia Thiérrée
Is it truly a revenant’s invitation, or a posthumous ruse to reunion? Two aging cinematic stars (Huppert, Depardieu) meet in Death Valley for a week to visit landmarks selectively scheduled for them in letters by their alienated son, posted proximal to his suicide eight months prior, which beseech their visitation for the promise of his own. Ailing under the western territory’s oppressive ardor, they reminisce and wrangle through grievous stages with themselves, each other, her belief, his incredulity, and auspices that they can’t easily interpret. Chilly Huppert and lumbering Depardieu perfectly play themselves as well as any characters, without a false note or needless motion in Nicloux’s affecting and oracular fiction. No mere vehicle for its weathered leads, it delivers their fish out of continental waters to a transcendental confrontation that validates the endurance of filial love. Charles Ives’s classic The Unanswered Question emphasizes its plural portentous profundities.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Loulou.

Palatable: Omar

Omar (2013)
Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad
Produced by Hany Abu-Assad, David Gerson, Waleed Zuaiter, Joana Zuaiter, Abbas F. Eddy Zuaiter, Ahmad F. Zuaiter, Farouq A. Zuaiter, Waleed Al-Ghafari, Zahi Khouri, Suhail A. Sikhtian, Baher Agbariya
Starring Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Waleed Zuaiter, Samer Bisharat, Eyad Hourani, Ramzi Maqdisi

To do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it.

–Plato, Gorgias

On the high road where he steps lightly in concern of its political and religious facets to evade complications and assure the commercial and distributive viability of his pictures, Abu-Assad’s cannily unveiled the humanity of the Palestinian struggle with Paradise Now, then this superior crime drama that demonstrates how dretchingly personal and martial imperatives can snarl. A baker (Bakri) regularly hazards gunfire by the IDF’s snipers and their patrols’ persecution to scale a border wall that segregates Palestinians from Israeli settlers in the West Bank, where he visits his militant friends (Hourani, Bisharat) and one’s lovely sister (Lubany) with whom he’s smitten. Jailed and railroaded for nicking a car as transportation to a military outpost where one of his buddies assassinates a soldier, he’s taught by a gauntlet of incarceration, torture, betrayal, heartbreak, and the legerdemain by an agent (Zuaiter) of Shin Bet — who offers him highly conditional freedom in exchange for his comrades — that one of his own is as perfidious as their oppressors. Corporate perpetrators of stodgy, overproduced fare could learn something from Abu-Assad’s economical feature, which is adeptly plotted, performed, shot and cut with lavish twists, a gripping pair of pursuits, one deeply moving, ruined romance, and an unforgettable conclusion, without a moment of hokum. It’s also one of but a handful of movies to relate that for aggrieved Arabs and Jewish occupiers alike who participate in the everlasting conflict provoked and perpetuated by the world’s most prosperous, parasitic, hypocritical, fraudulent and remorselessly abusive apartheid state, there is no contrition, no reprieve, no guarantee of anything, save death and reprisal.

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.