Capone's Art-House Round-Up with Abel Ferrara's restored MS. 45 and COLD TURKEY!!!
Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…
If you haven't seen the second feature from filmmaker Abel Ferrara (after DRILLER KILLER), strap yourself in and prepare for a trip in time, where gender roles were more distinct and the means of revenge were apparently a lot more clear. MS. 45 is the story of Thana (Zoë Tamerlis, who also wrote and co-starred in Ferrara's BAD LIEUTENANT, under her married name, Zoë Lund) a wallflower, mute seamstress for a fashion designer in New York City who is sexually assaulted not once but twice is a single night after work. Her already fragile state is pushed over the edge, and she kills the second man who attacks her in her apartment, takes his gun (a .45 caliber), and saws him up into more manageable sizes she can dispose of throughout the city.
What follows is one of the more memorable rape-revenge movies of that particular unsavory genre, with Thana dressing more and more provocatively to attract potential predators and then gunning them down the minute they step in her direction. The problem with her plan occurs almost instantly when a homeless man attempts to return to her one of the bags she disposed of, and she shoots him in the head before she realizes he's not attacking her. The film's most telling moments occur in Thana's workplace, populated by young women, all of whom are so used to being ogled and catcalled by New York men that they've toughened up and starting fighting back (mainly with words). But their boss is a condescending asshole, who is always encouraging Thana to do more to fit in (such as going to an upcoming Halloween party), when really he's trying to take advantage of this disabled woman.
MS. 45 is perhaps most twisted because almost none of the men that Thana shoots are potential rapists; they're just a series of alpha males or men who think they can seduce women with their god-awful rap. The one time she doesn't shoot would-be attackers is in one of the film's most memorable sequences in Central Park where she marches in fully made up into the darkest corner of the park where a whole gang of men surround her ready to pounce. Her gun, with its unlimited supply of bullets, takes care of them in short supply.
If you were to believe the depiction of New York in MS. 45 (which was released in 1981 and written by Nicholas St. John, or "N.G. St. John"), you'd probably never go there, although it probably showed a version of it that was true to Ferrara's experience—low-life citizens, shady situations, and every male some degree of scumbag. It borders on a nightmare depiction of a time, place and deviant attitude that feels authentic, even with some of the actors giving us exaggerated depictions of these creatures of the city.
The film has gone through a DCP restoration and is being re-released by Drafthouse Films, and the transfer is pretty solid. Some of the darker scenes are a bit blotchy (at least judging by the screener sent to me by the distributor), by overall it's a clean-looking endeavor and shows some of the early signs of Ferrara's craftsmanship as a director. The climactic sequence at the Halloween party, in which Thana dresses as a sexy nun, cannot be topped as a sideway slap in the face at the Warhol crowd, which I'm sure Ferrara both loathed but still wouldn't have minded being a part of, if only for research purposes. For those who live and breathe grindhouse works, it doesn't get much more important or influential than MS. 45, and it's nice to see it treated with the respect it deserves.
White people, I swear. It's true: Caucasians have all the problems, especially the ones with money and influence. And filmmakers will not stop making movies in a desperate attempt to make us realize that folks from pits of despair like Pasadena have issues that are driving them into deep wells of anxiety and depression. Poor, poor white people. Case in point: the new dark comedy from writer-director Will Slocombe, COLD TURKEY, which shows us the trials and tribulations about a trio of spoiled, grown siblings whose lives have all managed to turn to shit despite being raised with money and pretty much every advantage thanks to their father Poppy (Peter Bogdanovich), who has long been on wife number two (Cheryl Hines), after dumping his first wife and mother of his two daughters Lindsay (Sonya Walger) and whack job sister Nina (Alicia Witt), who hasn't been home in 15 years.
As Thanksgiving approaches, this messy family are attempting to gather as a whole unit for the first time in quite a few years. The fifth member of this pity party is half-brother Jacob (Ashton Holmes), the sole offspring of the second marriage and a professional fuck-up who throws his money away on terrible investments and online gambling primarily because Poppy keeps giving him the money to do so. Now he needs a tremendous amount of money to dig himself out of debut with loan sharks, and he bides his time to pick just the right moment to ask his father, who is perpetually drunk for the entire movie. In fact, all three siblings need cash on this fine holiday, and they pelt him with their pathetic tales of woe with their hands out, as I'm sure they all have done repeatedly in the past.
There are stories of failing marriages, infidelity, substance abuse, hell, Nina even brings her truck driver boyfriend (Wilson Bethel) home with her for Thanksgiving. Oh, the troubled life she has led. Nina is meant to be a source of chaos and humor in the film, but she just comes across as someone who runs her mouth all the time and can't keep a single secret, which makes you wonder why anyone would trust her with one. I'll admit, it's rather amusing to watch the great director Bogdanovich play such a disaster of a character; he's always been a solid actor in smaller parts throughout the years, but this is something a little more substantial as he's asked to move between being a government international affairs advisor and a delusional alcoholic. He's like a woozy Jack Benny without the violin.
COLD TURKEY is one of those indie films that feels the need to drop an entire family history in your lap in the span of less than 90 minutes. As a result, we get conversations that would never take place in real life, just so the characters can unload every major sock in their dirty laundry for our benefit. The end result is an endless litany of whining and griping that makes you want to drive the truck driver's semi straight through the living room window. There's nothing appallingly wrong with any of the performers—many of whom I'm great admirers of—which I guess means the greatest flaws in the film are in its screenplay, which is simply overwrought white misery and angst in its purist form.
All of this being said, I was never bored watching COLD TURKEY. It's so gloriously overwritten, and the actors seem to be gleefully indulging in delivering every line of dialogue with maximum WASPy attitude that you can't help but be mildly entertained. Still, it's tough justifying anything resembling a recommendation when its near impossible to care—let alone sympathize—with this annoying, miserable bunch and their self-made problems. In the end, they all made me sick.
-- Steve Prokopy
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