My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on a pair of double features by directors Paul Schrader and Abel Ferrara.
Cat People (1982)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Call me crazy but I think Cat People is the best film Schrader made after Blue Collar. Going through his work chronologically, he followed his great debut with a big misfire (Hardcore) and a flawed but fascinating film (American Gigolo). But with this re-imagining of the classic horror property, Schrader showed his skills in the horror genre and also his ability to work with another writer’s screenplay.
The film’s cast is brilliantly picked from the Kinski who is sultry without even trying, to Malcom McDowell giving another unhinged and unpredictable performance, to John Heard who portrays the everyday American male as well as anyone could, to Annette O’Toole who plays the perfect foil to Kinski (admittedly I’ve always had a big crush on O’Toole). Watching the actors play off each other is enough to make Cat People worth a look but combine their interplay with a great 80s score, striking photography, good use of actual animals with minimal effects, and a genuinely erotic vibe and you’ve got one of the best horror films of the era. Schrader’s remake takes the ideas of the original in a new direction, creating a truly sensual experience. As some critics at the time of the film’s release pointed out, Cat People is a rare thing: an American movie about sex. It’s actually more effectively erotic than the more obvious American Gigolo.
I’d always heard negative reactions to this Schrader film. Thankfully, I didn’t listen to them.
Watched on Criterion Channel.
The Addiction (1995)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Abel Ferrara’s vampire film feels very different than his previous three efforts. It’s much slower, much more thoughtful, perhaps hinting at the direction of his later career.
It also much be one of the most beautifully shot modern black and white films and is worth seeing just to look at the stunning images. The problem is what starts out as a realistic take on vampires turns into a barrage of pseudo-intellectual scenes. Ferrara wants his characters to talk like academics with big ideas but it all seems forced and phony. Even Christopher Walken can’t make it work.
The climax is visceral and memorable but the path there is far too pretentious for it to have the impact it should.
Watched on Shudder
American Gigolo (1980)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
This was my first look at Paul Schrader’s iconic film. I can see how it has held its place as an important piece of 80s cinema even if the movie only works half of the time.
Beyond the now dated stylish music montages, American Gigolo proceeds with the quiet, deliberate pace that characterizes most of Schrader’s films. In many ways, it reminded me of his recent The Card Counter, especially during its ending. However, like Ferrara’s handling of mature themes in an immature way during the early 90s, I don’t feel like Schrader was quite ready to take on a film like this.
The first half is nice to look at but drags along and doesn’t do enough with its characters to justify a long buildup. The second part of the picture, when the thriller elements start ticking, is stronger leading to a memorable finale. But like with Hardcore, Schrader is playing with interesting ideas that just don’t quite come together. And though I like Richard Gere a lot, his performance lacks the weight it needed to really make this a powerful picture. I understand the casting choice from a commercial perspective but the narrative would have been better served with a more seasoned actor, someone who has worked as gigolo for too long and sees a way out.
It’s hard to watch American Gigolo without seeing all the things Schrader would go on to perfect later in his career.
Watched on Paramount Plus
Dangerous Game (1993)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
I admire the concept of Abel Ferrara’s seemingly self-reflexive film about filmmaking more than I like the actual execution. With a committed Keitel, a stellar Madonna, and an unhinged James Russo, this could have been a powerful movie. Unfortunately, it’s a loud, tedious, self-indulgent mess with only a few insightful moments. It would take a much more mature Ferrara to tell the tale of a filmmaker’s life and mind, the recent masterful Tommaso. Still, I will take this film over the highly overrated Bad Lieutenant and King of New York any day.
Watched on Tubi