WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
(France/US - 2014)
THE LIVING END (1992), TOTALLY F***ED UP (1993), THE DOOM GENERATION (1995), and NOWHERE (1997), isn't a young man anymore and at 55, he seems to have mellowed with age. Based on a novel by Laura Kasischke, WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD is a puzzling film from Araki--not in the sense of its content, but in its presentation. It's essentially a straightforward, commercial thriller filtered through the ethereally dreamy haze of Sofia Coppola's THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (2000). Taking place from 1988 to 1991, WHITE BIRD centers on Kat Connors (Woodley, of THE DESCENDANTS and the DIVERGENT series), a 17-year-old high school student with typical teenage ennui. School sucks, the town is a drag, and her parents--milquetoast father Brock (Christopher Meloni) and mentally unstable mother Eve (Eva Green)--are lame. The miserable Eve has steadily gone off the deep end as Kat has gotten older, become more independent, and likely to be out with her stoner boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) instead of hanging out at home with Mom. Eve feels life has passed her by and she takes turns blaming Kat, who has learned to ignore her, and Brock, who crawls inside of his shell or, if he's in the mood, hides in the basement to jerk off to his Hustler stash. One day, Kat returns home from school to find her father waiting for her. Eve has vanished. Kat isn't alarmed, as this apparently isn't the first time it's happened, but this time, Eve doesn't come back. Brock files a missing persons report with hunky local cop Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane), with whom Kat starts a casual fling when things cool off with Phil. Three years go by and there's no sign of Eve, but life has gone on. Kat is in college and Brock is dating May (Sheryl Lee), a co-worker at his office. Everyone's grown accustomed to Life After Eve, at least until a troubled Kat finally addresses the glaring absence of her mother in her life and faces a nagging suspicion that there's something being overlooked in her disappearance.
I haven't read the novel, but I do know that Araki drastically--and I mean drastically--changed the ending for the film in a way that makes you question everything that came beforehand. In that way, it's the kind of crazy and unexpected twist ending that's all too commonplace in most standard thrillers today. It works in the context of the film--and in being a Gregg Araki film--even if it totally alters the intent of whatever points Kasischke wanted to make with her novel. I did like the mood and the aura Araki establishes throughout, brilliantly abetted by a mix of '80s goth and alternative (Cocteau Twins' "Sea Swallow Me" perfectly kicks off the opening credits, and there's also songs by The Cure, Talk Talk, Depeche Mode, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, among others), and a dream pop-ish score by avant-garde musician Harold Budd and Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie. It's a thriller that disguises a coming-of-age drama when Kat, haunted by dreams where her mother cries out for her, finds she's unable to move on with her life until she knows what happened. It's not even that she necessarily misses her mother. No one seemed all that broken up about her vanishing. Even the police investigation seemed to go through the motions. Eve is a profoundly troubled woman prone to irrational tantrums and uncomfortable competitions with Kat, especially when it comes to getting Phil's attention (connoisseurs of cringe will have to look away during a flashback when Eve puts on a tight miniskirt and struts around the basement rec room where Kat and Phil are trying to do their homework). Eve is brought to vivid life by Green's patented crazy-eyes, psycho-bitch routine, seen in its full glory throughout her flashback sequences but never more haunting than when she looks at herself in a mirror and turns a dead stare into a wild-eyed, maniacal grin to the tune of Love and Rockets'"A Private Future". With her terrifying glare, Green's ability to throw herself into these kinds of characters has a history of single-handedly elevating mediocre trifles like DARK SHADOWS and 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE into must-see movies. Eva Greeniacs won't be disappointed with her work here, and she's in danger of typecasting even though this seems to be the niche she's chosen to carve for herself. The biggest surprise is Meloni, terrific in an unexpected role as a meek, slumped-shouldered doormat psychologically destroyed by his shrewish wife and quietly happy that she's decided to abandon them. There's some logic issues that pop up late in the game that beg the question of just how the cops did such a sloppy job with their investigation, but WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD is a low-key and very compelling film from a much less abrasive and in-your-face Araki, who doesn't work as frequently these days as he did in his '90s heyday--it's his first film since 2010's KABOOM, and the first I've seen since 2005's MYSTERIOUS SKIN--and gets fine performances from his cast, with a genuinely surprising finale, though serious fans of the book probably won't be as forgiving about the changes he's made. (R, 91 mins)
(US - 2014)
(UK/France/Russia - 2014)
Written and directed by DTV vet Philippe Martinez (WAKE OF DEATH), VIKTOR is surprisingly well-shot on location in Moscow and some outlying areas. But Martinez's script is as routine as it gets (Russian mobsters! Again!) and the pacing is absolutely laborious. Other than Hurley, it's difficult to understand most of the cast due to the garbled accents of actors for whom English is a second language. Ten minutes are likely added to the running time just by the camera lingering on Karasov--who quite obviously is not fluent in English--valiantly struggling to say his lines phonetically. Hurley, appearing in just her second feature film in the last decade, still looks stunning, though she has a hard time selling Alexandra's insatiable lust for Viktor. Martinez spares us the explosive erotica of a Depardieu-Hurley sex scene but does offer Alexandra giving Viktor a post-coital shoulder-rub while kissing his neck. Despite his size being in the the ballpark of late-career Brando, Depardieu still has enough gravitas to convincingly to sell this character if he wanted to, but he just doesn't look like he cares. The film doesn't even get any dramatic mileage from the tragically poignant real-life parallel of Depardieu being a grieving father offscreen, having lost his 37-year-old son Guillaume in 2008. In several scenes, the French acting legend mumbles like Steven Seagal, his wandering eyes give away that he's reading cue cards or a teleprompter, and he doesn't even take part in the obligatory climactic showdown at an abandoned warehouse, instead having some guys crash into the warehouse and bring Belinski to him. It's here where Martinez completely drops the ball, as the entire film could've been redeemed had it been Depardieu crashing an SUV engulfed in CGI flames through the warehouse doors while hanging out of the window shooting at everyone. The $10 million VIKTOR didn't quite do for Depardieu what TAKEN did for Neeson: it opened on ten screens in the US with no publicity whatsoever last October and grossed just $623 in its first and only week of release. (Unrated, 98 mins, also streaming on Netflix Instant)