Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Film Review: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995, Jodie Foster)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Holly Hunter (CRASH, THE PIANO), Robert Downey, Jr. (WEIRD SCIENCE, NATURAL BORN KILLERS); Ann Bancroft (NIGHTFALL, THE GRADUATE), Charles Durning (SHARKEY'S MACHINE, DOG DAY AFTERNOON), Dylan McDermott (THE PRACTICE, HARDWARE), Geraldine Chaplin (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, HABLA CON ELLA), Steven Guttenberg (CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, DINER), Cynthia Stevenson (DEAD LIKE ME, HAPPINESS), Claire Danes (MY SO-CALLED LIFE, THE RAINMAKER), Austin Pendleton (CATCH-22, SHORT CIRCUIT), David Strathairn (THE RIVER WILD, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). Music by Mark Isham (POINT BREAK, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE). Cinematography by Lajois Koltai (MOBSTERS, WRESTLING ERNEST HEMINGWAY).
Tag-line: "We'll do it every year..until we get it right."
Best one-liner: "I'm giving thanks that we don't have to go through this for another year. Except we do, because those bastards went and put Christmas right in the middle, just to punish us."

Upon HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS’ release, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "Neither caustic nor sentimental, it's a film that maybe half the people walking the earth have at one time considered writing..." And that's exactly it- everyone's had (or will have) these kind of family experiences that tiptoe between enraging awkwardness (in the here and now) and lovable idiosyncrasy (in retrospect). Oddly, those who so perfectly spun this tale are writer W.D. Richter (writer- BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS '79, director- THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI), and director Jodie Foster (her second feature). Like the best real-life eccentrics, the more time you spend with this film, the more it'll grow on you. It wasn't until my third or so viewing that it earned it's fifth star.

Holly Hunter is our beleaguered point of entry– fired from her job, and with a zinger laid on her by her daughter (Claire Danes) at the boarding gate, she must descend into the humiliation, ludicrousness, exuberance, and nostalgia of the Trip Back Home. The existential terrors of the airport, the catching up, the avoiding of random people from one's past- it's all captured in a brilliant observational style that never strays too far into mawkishness (nor, on the other end, silliness).


Durning and Bancroft enthusiastically bear witness to Holly Hunter's de-planing.


Her father:

is an organ-playin’, food-luvin' ("Redi-Whip! Smell it and weep!"), grumbling ("My goddamn pants are stuck in my socks!") Charles Durning.

Charles Durning and Ann Bancroft bust some moves.

Her mother is the amazingly crusty, chain-smoking, jigsaw puzzle-framing Ann Bancroft. Robert Downey, Jr. is her ebullient, gay, Polaroid-snapping brother. He's clearly riding the horse named "Big H," but that might be (!) why it’s his best performance. He's the kind of guy who will zoom by in his car (while blasting the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird") as you're having an awkward encounter with some BMW-drivin' d-bags you knew 20 years before.


Downey's dickery in this film is legendary.


The Polaroid paparazzo.


A Downey-Guttenberg brawl is mediated by Durning and a garden hose.

Her sister is Cynthia Stevenson, playing that same sadly bitchy role she does so well. A really pissy Steve Guttenberg is her brother-in-law, a delightfully spaced-out Geraldine Chaplin is her aunt, and David Strathairn plays the saddest sack in the universe. There's love, melancholy, and endless possibility… and there's so much going on (almost think MAD magazine meets James Joyce) that repeated viewings are extremely rewarding.

Five stars, and happy Thanksgiving!

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Film Review: BARFLY (1987, Barbet Schroeder)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway, Alice Krige (CHARIOTS OF FIRE, SLEEPWALKERS), Jack Nance (ERASERHEAD, TWIN PEAKS), J.C. Quinn (THE ABYSS, DAYS OF THUNDER), Joe Unger (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3, ROAD HOUSE), Gloria LeRoy (THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY'S), Sandy Martin (BIG LOVE, REAL GENIUS), Frank Stallone (Sylvester's brother), Pruitt Taylor Vince (WILD AT HEART, DEADWOOD). Cinematography by Robby Müller (PARIS, TEXAS; DEAD MAN, DANCER IN THE DARK, BODY ROCK, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.). Music by Jack Baran, John Lurie, Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, Tom Luddy, & Fred Roos. Written by Charles Bukowski (FACTOTUM, HOLLYWOOD, POST OFFICE, HAM ON RYE).
Tag-line: " Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead."
Best one-liner: "And as my hands drop the last desperate pen, in some cheap room, they will find me there and never know my name, my meaning, nor the treasure of my escape."

BARFLY is not a pitiful, kitchen sink drama about down-on-their-luck losers. It's not sappy award-season fodder, manipulatively constructed for tugging upon heartstrings and emptying tear-wells. And it's not some slacker ode, designed as a pat on the back for white-bred goof-offs who occasionally daydream about what it'd be like to take a week off work to go on a bender. BARFLY is sincerely dangerous and dangerously sincere, and it is because BARFLY is a philosophy. BARFLY is about winnin' one for the bums, even if that means yankin' the pillars of civilization down on all our heads. It's about taking one's intellect- a genius that could surely have moved mountains– and applying it instead to more expedient techniques for fucking with the night bartender at the local saloon (played with knuckleheaded élan by Frank Stallone).

Its dipsomaniacal protagonist, Henry Chinaski (a recurring Bukowski alter-ego– well, let's just be honest and say 'a Bukowski with a different name'), is played by Mickey Rourke with lunatic gusto which ever threatens to escape the mere confines of the cinema-frame.

He lurches about like a movie-monster, dragging his feet like Frankenstein, teetering on his haunches like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, leering like Dwight Frye. He is a gutter-poet, an amateur street-fighter, and a professional drunk.

Ostensibly, he stands for nothing, but, in a way, he stands for everything. He is that rare negative man, he who defines himself by what he is not. Is he a simple misanthrope? Does he just hate people? "No, but I seem to feel better when they're not around," he mumbles. Does he simply hate 'the powers that be,' the cops? "I don't know, but I seem to feel better when they're not around."

His entire life is a war waged against the status quo, the skirmishes and campaigns of which take place in stagnant, lonely flophouses; noxious, grotty gin-joints; and desolate street corners at 3:00 in the morning. His many victories against society are private ones- they are not sung from the rooftops or celebrated annually by giggling schoolchildren– they're for himself, and for himself only. A wry, split-lip smile reflected back by cracked, dirty mirror.

It takes a certain breed of self-assured filmmaker (Mike Leigh and his 1993 film NAKED also come to mind) to construct a film whereupon the protagonist begins the film as a (self-described) "asshole," spends the entire film being an asshole, and finishes the film as an asshole. Then, as you leave the theater, you realize that you're an asshole. I guess it's kinda counter-intuitive to the Hollywood formula.

Well, Golan & Globus were willing to take a chance, and it was on French filmmaker Barbet Schroeder (KOKO, A TALKING GORILLA; MORE!; REVERSAL OF FORTUNE; TRICHEURS), for whom BARFLY was a seven-year labor of love. It was also quite nearly a labor of flesh: upon learning of Cannon's financial difficulties, Schroeder was told that BARFLY may have to be pushed back on the schedule. Seizing the moment (and a Black & Decker saw), Schroeder burst into Cannon's offices, threatening to cut off his own finger if the film were delayed yet again– the reasoning being that the film was a part of him, just as real and as tangible and as vital as a finger. Needless to say, Golan and Globus found a way to massage the numbers and the film was made.

"I remember ordering a draught, barkeep. What, are you out of brew, or has that lobotomy finally taken hold?" In case it was not already evident, I love BARFLY. It's Mickey Rourke distracting Frank Stallone and chugging purloined Schlitz, straight from the tap:

YAHGHGHLUG-GLUG-GLUG

It's Jack Nance shuffling and skulking around in a moth-eaten, flea-bitten suit, rumpling his jowls in that odd, furtive way that he does:

It's the fact that every time a pile of cash is shown (which is actually several times), you can plainly see that it's a pile of one-dollar bills (Golan & Globus weren't kidding about being underfunded!).

It's Faye Dunaway, without makeup, restraint, or a sense of balance...and somehow looking more beautiful than ever.

And she's stealing unripened corn from the stalk ("I love corn. I wanna pick some corn."), and given the trigger-happy cops that are around, she's risking her life for it, to boot! It's the paramedics arriving and berating you for your dirty undies, even though they look as if they haven't bathed in weeks. It's Stallone and his short fuse, beating (and sometimes getting beaten) to a pulp and screaming un-ironic rejoinders such as "I'll have this fag licking my balls in five minutes!" or "I'd hate to be you if I were me."

Stallone: possibly unaware they were making a movie.

It's the tone of John Lurie's sleazy sax dripping out of a ramshackle jukebox. It's a crestfallen old man on the street who feels like a useful member of society for the first time in years when he's asked for a light. It's Roberta Bassin's evil eye bearing down on you from the other end of the bar. It's the old-timer with the DTs, who must fashion a sling from his scarf in order to drink a shot without spillage. It's Rourke's road rage against a couple of yuppie assholes. It's the barfly (Dunaway) versus erudite (Alice Krige) catfight, with clumps of hair, slashing nails, and cultural superiority hanging in the balance! It's another round, for all my friends! It's Robby Müller's gorgeous cinematography which must be seen to be believed- the glimmer of neon through beer suds, the stale air of the dive bar, the sunlight streaming into a flophouse. As was the case with Dunaway's appearance, the sleaze and sludge of the world of the barfly has never looked quite so appetizing, (yet, nor has it ever looked quite so dismal!).

Now, I had the opportunity to see BARFLY as part of the recent Lincoln Center "Cannon Films Canon" retrospective, so I'd like to make a few observations about the event itself. Barbet Schroeder introduced the film, sharing the classic Black & Decker tale of it's conception and expressing his admiration for Bukowski. After these few words, he walked over and sat down next to me for the screening. He slouched down in his seat, folded his hands, and watched the film with a stern, thoughtful intensity. Now, there are many moments in BARFLY at which one cannot help but laugh. It ain't exactly mainstream slapstick, but I think we can all appreciate the subtle hilarity of Mickey Rourke telling Frank Stallone that his "momma's cunt stinks like carpet cleaner!", the way he blows a double-handed kiss to an adversary:

the sheer volume of spurting blood after he's beaten by Faye Dunaway's purse, or when he lurches into the wrong apartment, and, after confronting the existential terror of his inexplicably altered surroundings, immediately commences raiding the 'fridge. But there's also a great humanity here, and by no means is this a laugh-a-minute yuckfest. Schroeder's observational style shows us everything, but passes no judgment. Regardless, I began to feel self-conscious, chuckling at the wreckage with the director's severe countenance sitting beside me. (Thankfully, at the Q&A after the film, Schroeder spoke of how American audiences 'got' the film and its sense of humor, whereas the European crowd saw it as dark social tragedy, á la THE GRAPES OF WRATH or something.)
After the film, there was a brief conversation between Schroeder, Golan, Globus, & producer Tom Luddy. I must make a note here of how Golan and Globus come across– Globus is no-nonsense, the numbers man. Dressed in a well-tailored suit, but completely unpretentious, he stands in stark contrast to his cousin Golan. Even at 81, Golan comes across as the smooth operator, the storyteller, the scarf-wearing artiste with all the sophistication of a European auteur, yet with the same 'aw, shucks' sincerity that must've successfully pitched BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO to distributors. I'm planning on writing more about seeing them speak in a later post, but for now I'll limit the comments to what happened after the BARFLY screening:

When asked if BARFLY received any Oscar nominations (it didn't, but Schroeder is an Oscar-nominee, and his films have certainly been well-nominated), Schroeder shrugged his shoulders and said he had no idea. He could care less about accolades at this point- he feels as strongly about the film now as he did in the days that he made it. Who cares if it was nominated for Oscars? It's especially refreshing given that he's actually been nominated, thus having earned the right to give a shit about the Oscars if he so chooses.

Schroeder spoke a little about the real Bukowski- the careful, coaxing process of making the film, given his harsh "anti-any-sort-of-authority" stance. He spoke about Godard's theft of Bukowski's intellectual property (as Godard was wont to do) in EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF, and how he was able to wrangle 'subtitle' credit for Bukowski. He talked for a bit about the Golden Horn, the bar at which the bulk of BARFLY was shot, and how it used to be a 'luxury' bar that Cary Grant once drank at, and how the clientele were recycled as extras in BARFLY! Everything was shot on location- the flophouse was really next door, and the back alley (and site of Rourke vs. Stallone brawling) was really the alley behind the bar.

Tom Luddy described how difficult it was to convince Dunaway to go without makeup, as she was extremely averse to the idea, despite all sorts of buttering up about her 'natural beauty' and so on. Finally, he convinced her to shoot screen tests- both with and without makeup- and told her she could choose. They screened both tests for Faye, and she wisely (but unexpectedly!) picked the one without makeup.

Menahem Golan bragged about how well BARFLY did on VHS, and how much money they ended up making on the "ill-fated" endeavor. (Of course, they immediately invested it in a pile of other projects, many of which bombed and soon sealed Cannon's fate- but they went out in a blaze of glory, dammit!) He also spoke of how difficult it was to drag Mickey Rourke to the Cannes film festival- he finally had to buy him a Rolls-Royce to convince him! "But that's Mickey..." Golan trailed off, smiling. Then everyone railed for a bit about how it's out-of-print on DVD and should be released by Criterion, but that it's up in the air now with MGM's purchase of the Cannon catalogue and subsequent bankruptcy.

This was the extent of the Q&A, but in all, it was a fantastic evening– BARFLY and Robby Müller's squalidly elegant cinematography on the big screen, and with Schroeder, Luddy, Golan & Globus there to share their insights and enthusiasm. Quite possibly an all-time top 100 movie.
In a similar vein, I also recommend such all-time favorites as: FAT CITY, STREET TRASH, BASKET CASE, UNDER THE VOLCANO, THE MISFITS, and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE.

-Sean Gill

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Film Review: BURNT OFFERINGS (1976, Dan Curtis)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 116 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart (HEARTBREAK RIDGE, THE BAD SEED), Dub Taylor (BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE WILD BUNCH), Anthony James (VANISHING POINT, UNFORGIVEN), Lee Montgomery (GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR). Based on the novel by Robert Marasco (author of the Tony-award winning CHILD'S PLAY- no relation to Chucky).
Tag-line: "The perfect summer rental for the last vacation you'll ever take."
Best one-liner: "I hate this place! I want to get of here. I HATE IT!"

Sort of a proto-SHINING (it's a 1976 film based on a 1973 novel, and King's novel wasn't published until 1977), BURNT OFFERINGS is a fairly enjoyable specimen of both the 'gothic haunted house' and 'descent into insanity' subgenres. A family (patriarch Oliver Reed, matriarch Karen Black, kiddie Lee Montgomery, and wacky aunt Bette Davis) is tasked with caring for a mansion while its owners (a crazed Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart) are away, but they encounter an evil, Victorian presence which draws them closer and closer to the brink of madness. Directed by the legendary purveyor of horror television, Dan Curtis (DARK SHADOWS, THE NIGHT STALKER, TRILOGY OF TERROR), it's atmospheric, dark, and labyrinthine, but it never quite congeals into an effective film.

BURNT OFFERINGS is dreamlike. When one says that a film's atmosphere is "dreamlike," it's often the highest of compliments– after all, one of filmdom's greatest ambitions is to transmit one's ethereal fantasies and nightmares onto the tangible substance that is celluloid. So allow me to elaborate: "the movie was so dreamlike I nearly fell asleep."

Occasionally filmmakers, in the service of making a sequence hazier or more phantasmagorical, will use a soft focus, an overexposure, some vaseline on the lens, or some combination therein. BURNT OFFERINGS uses this on every single shot.

I don't know if it's the fault of the DVD transfer or part of Dan Curtis' original vision, but needless to say, it's a bit much. So I'm gonna go ahead and say it: the movie drags, it's often nonsensical, and in general it feels as if you're peering at the narrative through a pair of non-prescription reading glasses purchased from the Drug Mart clearance rack for $1.59. But all is not lost, by any means. There's still a lot of reasons to like BURNT OFFERINGS. Here are nine of them:

#1. Filmed at the historic Dunsmuir House in Oakland, California (where they also shot PHANTASM!), the location is spectacular enough to carry even a generic haunted house tale.


#2. Remember when we were hanging out that one time and I was like "Man, I wish there was a movie out there where Bette Davis got her sweet ass slapped" and you were like "Yeah, it's too bad she passed away, now it'll never happen" and then we both kinda looked off into the distance, feeling at once deviant and forlorn?

Well, for your benefit and mine, Ollie Reed took the plunge with kind of a grab/pat which is rendered all the more disturbing since he's doing it to his (in-film) aunt. Mr. Reed must have been big on the impromptu ass grab, 'cause he does it to Karen Black, too:

God bless ya, Ollie Reed.

#3. Speaking of whom, if there's four states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, & plasma), there are two states of Oliver Reed (drunk, and in need of a drink). I could bore you all with the equations and formulae, but I shan't. Just take my word for it. We get both kinds in BURNT OFFERINGS.

Exhibit A: Oliver Reed drunk.


Exhibit B: Oliver Reed in need of a drink.

Note the frustration and inner tumult.

#4. Continuing in this vein, we bear witness to the rare phenomenon of an Ollie Reed summertime belly flop.

Either, A. the man does not know how to dive in a pool, B., it was a specific character choice, or C., he was drunk. I'll allow you to answer that one for yourself.

#5. The creepy chauffeur. Glimpsed only in flashback, and played by Anthony James (of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, UNFORGIVEN, GUNSMOKE, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, etc.),

he's probably the creepiest element of the film. His death's head grin is quite unnerving, and his tall, skeletal form is remembered from a funeral scene in Oliver Reed's character's childhood. The presence of the Dunsmuir House and an eerie, gangly, villainous presence (at a funeral, no less...like the Tall Man?) makes one believe that this must have been an influence on PHANTASM (though I see PHANTASM as the far superior film).

#6. Bette Davis. She's better than this movie, and she knows it. She mutters remarks like "Old people- they do crazy things sometimes!" She berates other family members, and does it while holding a ludicrously long cigarette holder.

But she believes in a paycheck, even if it involves having her ass slapped by Oliver Reed. Horror fans take note: her righteous devotion to paychecks brought us such classics as RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, and WICKED STEPMOTHER. We must not forget this.

Pass the sloppy lipstick.

#7. Ornery Peckinpah fave Dub Taylor.

He's not in the film for long, but, as always, he possesses that same old crotchety, grizzled energy that made him such a favorite in the Western genre.

#8. Burgess Meredith.

Whether it's a TWILIGHT ZONE episode, a ROCKY movie, or a scene from THE MANITOU, whenever Burgess Meredith is on screen, I am beaming like a proud parent. The man puts a smile on my face, what can I say. Confined to a wheelchair and basically only appearing in the film's opening sequence, Meredith nonetheless showers us with his completely insane, endlessly talkative, freakishly madcap joie de vivre.

#9. Karen Black.

Now, based on my SHINING comparison, one might assume that only Oliver Reed undergoes the caretaker-style descent into madness, but Karen Black really gets in on the action, too. Her brilliantly erratic, unpredictable talents that are on view in such dramas as FIVE EASY PIECES, BORN TO WIN, and THE GREAT GATSBY find an excellent outlet in the context of a horror film. She and Oliver Reed make for an amazingly volatile screen pairing–

it's a pity that the narrative itself does not manage to harness any of the pizazz which they're bringing to the table.

In the end, BURNT OFFERINGS brings together a phalanx of extraordinary actors to the perfect haunted locale, but fails to make anything truly interesting happen there. It certainly holds the attention, but for pure insanity's sake, I have to recommend instead THE SENTINEL, PHANTASM, HOUSE, or HAUSU; and for enthusiasts of 'melancholy horror,' I prefer THE CHANGELING, CASTLE FREAK, or ANGEL HEART.

Still, three stars. Pass the Coors.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Film Review: GIALLO (2010, Dario Argento)

Stars: 3.25 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Adrien Brody (THE THIN RED LINE, THE PIANIST), Elsa Pataky (Brody's current girlfriend, acted in SNAKES ON A PLANE, BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR), Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski's wife, acted in THE NINTH GATE, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY), Robert Miano (FIRESTARTER, CHINA GIRL). Cinematography by Frederic Fasano (SCARLET DIVA, MOTHER OF TEARS).
Tag-line: "Oscar Winner Adrien Brody."
Best one-liner: "You so selfish! Asshole!"

As a Dario Argento fan, it pained me to hear all of the negative buzz about his latest flick, GIALLO. All I want is a return to form– artful murders bathed in colored light and set to thrumpin' beats by Goblin. That's all I want. Instead, it seemed we had another CARD PLAYER on our hands. But now, having seen GIALLO, I am pleased to report that it is way better than the ramshackle shitstorm of derivative torture porn which haunted my most pessimistic nightmares. I'm not sure we can call it good, per se, but we sure can't call it 'horrible,' and that, my friends, is a latter-day Argento victory! Pass the Campari!

There's a lot of, shall we say, questionable material in GIALLO, but I think it's fair to say that there's been something a little cockeyed about every Argento film since TRAUMA, and some would argue that things have been a little off for even longer. For the benefit of the readers who would like this article to have a happy ending, I'll tackle the bad before I tackle the good.

Now, for starters, it's not even a giallo. GIALLO is not a giallo. Let that sink in for a minute. In fact, the title refers to the killer's jaundiced skin ('giallo' is the Italian word for 'yellow'). There're no black gloves, no intricate mystery as to the killer's identity, no artfully constructed murder sequences. Instead, the killer drives a white minivan taxi, wears a hoodie, and tortures and kills his victims in a dingy basement without the benefit of a vivid color pallette or Italo disco.

The soundtrack isn't even done by Claudio Simonetti, who's usually happy to disavow his own trademark style and go the poor man's Hollywood route. Instead, it was scored by a man named Marco Werba, and it sounds like the bastard child of Bernard Herrmann and Danny Elfman. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, but in the context of Argento- known for his morbidly thrilling soundscapes- it's weak.
The opening credits are done in that "twentieth generation rip-off of SE7EN" style that I love so much, complete with jittery, out of focus jumps and a wonky exposure.

How gritty, how authentic! Maybe they should have named the movie GI@LLO or something.

And here's something I never needed to see in an Argento movie-

...

...

...

Well, now that that's out of the way- on to the good. Much like DEATH WISH V: THE FACE OF DEATH, Argento boldy chooses to open his film at a fashion show.

While I certainly prefer the Euro-sleaze of the 70's and 80's (NEW YORK RIPPER, et al.), this'll do, Dario. This'll do.

The killer (played by newcomer "Byron Deidra"...), despite being conceptually hackneyed, is fairly creepy in execution. This scene finds him, um, apparently jerkin' the turkey to some torture photographs he's taken. Note the pacifier.

That pacifier is clearly the one extra push that the scene needed. Of course, this all ties into a childhood trauma, a favorite subject of Argento's.

And what have we here?

Asia Argento dropped out of GIALLO back when it was supposed to star Vincent Gallo, but at least she's around in spirit for a pictorial cameo.

Adrien Brody, our lead and co-producer (who's now suing the production), delivers a solid performance. He's taking things very seriously, which is the way things ought to be taken in an Argento movie. If we'd got some annoying American actor in here playing it for laffs, we'd be missing out on the sincerely surreal moments that naturally emanate from an Argento picture. I.e., at one point he earnestly explains that, as a cop, "my methods aren't exactly by the book."

As he is introduced, the camera pans across his desk, past a New York-style pizza, a baseball, a bat, and a carefully draped jacket with visible text which reports, "F.B.I. Special New York City Department."

In walks our heroine (Emmanuelle Seigner), who immediately asks the question which is burning at the forefront of all our minds: "Are you from New York?"

Emmanuelle Seigner is, as always, pretty amusing and possibly drunk.

[Insert catty comment about the quality of THE NINTH GATE here.]
At one point, she gets to scream "You so selfish! Asshole! ASSHOLE!"

That kinda stuff has always been worth the price of admission for me, but keep in mind that rave is from the guy who gave five stars to MURDER ROCK. But if you draw no satisfaction from Adrien Brody somberly announcing "GOTCHA, YOU YELLOW FUCK..." than maybe you shouldn't be watching Argento movies in the first place.

The body count's low, the gore's not entertaining, the music's off, and the aesthetics are ill-advised, but there's an abrupt freeze-frame ending, in true Argento fashion. Thank God for small favors.

In the end, I have to give it a touch over three stars. And though I loathe to use "not as bad as I expected" as a form of praise, I think that it's applicable here. Though it tries for 'generic, overproduced, Hollywood-lite torture porn,' enough of Argento's wonderful eccentricities shine through to make it worth it for his fans. And even non-Argento fans may find themselves pursing their lips, half-nodding, and muttering to themselves, "that was sort of a decent police procedural."

-Sean Gill