My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on two films by Paul Schrader and two by Abel Ferrara.
PATTY HEARST (1998)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
The first twenty or so minutes of Paul Schrader’s PATTY HEARST is a cinematic feat. It is basically an extended montage of images and music showing Patty’s kidnapping, captivity, and eventual indoctrination into the guerrilla group. Whereas style sometimes undermines Schrader’s work, it benefits him here. The sequence is masterful storytelling, carefully condensing what could have taken a whole movie to explain into one act.
And it’s a hard act to follow. The rest of the movie settles into an episodic, meandering collection of events involving Patty and the other rebels. There are highlights along the way but most of the narrative feels tedious, repeating itself and never measuring up to that fantastic opening. In essence, the climax of Schrader’s film takes place at the beginning and the rest is the equivalent of sitting in bed smoking a cigarette after sex.
It is anchored by a committed performance from Natasha Richardson, an actress whose work and presence is still missed.
Watched on Tubi.
THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS (1990)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS is one of Paul Schrader’s best works as a director. It might be my favorite of his films. Time will tell as I go through his filmography, seeing some of the titles I’ve never seen before and giving others a second look.
This one was a rewatch and it reminded me that there’s nothing like experience THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS for the first time (and hopefully knowing very little about it when you do). For that reason, I’ll strongly avoid any spoilers. However, even knowing what’s coming, I found this Harold Pinter-pinned adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel to be just as fascinating. Now, I can study the dialog, the attitudes of the character, the way Paul Schrader and his team build the tone that leads to the unforgettable climax. It’s a truly erotic film, not just because of its sex scenes, but a sensuality that runs throughout the picture, helped by its Venice setting.
All of the performers are as good as they’ve ever been. Rupert Everett, not a choice I would have made, delivers his least obvious and therefore best performance that I’ve seen. Christopher Walken is a hybrid of his earlier, more subtle work and his later more eccentric style. The balance plays well and Schrader keeps the actor restrained. Helen Mirren is reliable as always. However, it is Natasha Richardson who really shines in the film. Between this and Schrader’s PATTY HEARST, I wish she had become his go-to leading lady. I also wish she was still with us. Her career and life were cut short, something that makes watching this and her other work all the more meaningful.
Watched on Criterion Channel.
NEW ROSE HOTEL (1998)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Thankfully, NEW ROSE HOTEL isn’t as loud as Abel Ferrara’s THE FUNERAL, as indulgent as KING OF NEW YORK or BAD LIEUTENANT, or as lost in drugs as THE BLACKOUT. Still, clocking in at 93 minutes it manages to be a tedious affair with a few highlights.
The film is genuinely sexy at times, I’ll give it that, and I’m fond of sci-fi movies that are grounded in reality. Willem Dafoe and Asia Argento make a good pair and their sexual/romantic chemistry feels real. I know I’m in the minority on this but I prefer Christopher Walken’s early, subdued work (THE DEER HUNTER, DOGS OF WAR) compared to his eccentric work from the late 80s onward. It’s showy like his dance moves and frankly bores the hell out of me. Therefore, his antics throughout NEW ROSE HOTEL don’t help the picture and it’s bizarre that after so much attention, Abel gives him a rather dull send off.
The most puzzling thing about this movie is the last thirty minutes when a series of scenes are unnecessarily regurgitated as flashbacks. I sat there rewatching everything we’d seen before to learn what I already knew. No, this isn’t one of Abel’s worst but it’s still a dud from his worst period as a storyteller.
Watched on Tubi
‘R XMAS (2001)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
‘R XMAS is more straight-forward and traditional in its storytelling than Ferrara’s 90s work. Thankfully, it’s also less annoying and indulgent. Still, the film doesn’t have the impact of the director’s best work.
The plot involving multiple drug dealers and gangs is convoluted and reminded me that Abel is at his best with minimal plot structure, with simple stories that focus on character portraits like TOMMASO, PASOLINI, and even MS. 45. The moments that focus most on the individual are strongest here, specifically with Drea de Matteo who gives the film’s best performance. Without her, the film would completely fall apart into another muddled gangland drama.
As I make my way through Ferrara’s filmography in chronological order, is this a sign of a rise out of his bloated 90s pictures to something resembling his later, greater work? We shall see.
Watched on Amazon.