This week in movies you missed: If the world were ending, where would you want to be?
(c) In a Manhattan loft with two arty types who are none too articulate and spend most of their last hours painting gigantic canvases and getting busy with each other?
(d) With Bruce Willis in a spaceship somewhere, quipping and trying to save the day?
What You Missed
If you picked (d), too bad. This movie concerns option (c).
Director Abel Ferrara (best known for the one and only original Bad Lieutenant) tries his hand at the apocalypse art film with 4:44 Last Day on Earth, set almost entirely inside the loft where lovers Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh) are spending their last night alive.
At 4:44 a.m., the ozone layer will rip itself off and expose everyone on Earth to an almost instantaneous dose of poisonous radiation, or something. Dafoe explains this situation to the audience by scribbling it in his notebook. He also informs us that "Al Gore was right," and the film features a clip of Gore telling Charlie Rose that melting polar ice caps could cause catastrophic floods. (Not sure what this has to do with instant ozone-depletion death, but maybe someone scientific can enlighten me.)
Anyway, the means of apocalypse aren't the point here. The film is about the couple's handling of the grim prospect. Skye spends most of her time throwing paint on her huge canvases while watching a guru dude on her iPad talk about how life and death are merely illusions. Cisco, more restless, Skypes his daughter, rambles around muttering improvised monologues, and visits friends who tempt him to relapse into a drug habit. The pair connects occasionally — sometimes for sex, sometimes for psychodrama. But, for the most part, they seem almost alone together.
Why You Missed It
4:44 made it to but three theaters.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Not if you are (a) an impending-apocalypse-film completist or (b) a Ferrara fan. If you are neither, see Melancholia instead.
That's not a ringing endorsement, but if you do love apocalypse movies (and I do), there are cool things about 4:44. The first half-hour or so, which has very little dialogue, is probably the best. Ferrara's camera rambles through the twilit loft, revealing an alarming number of TVs and Apple devices, many broadcasting some form of would-be comfort to the doomed Earth. The screens seem almost to be talking to each other, reassuring each other, and it's a clever concept and commentary on the world we live in.
Unfortunately, the parts of the film with character dialogue aren't so compelling. Dafoe is believably intense, but no amount of filmmaking technique can conceal that Leigh just isn't that strong an actress. Her one big dramatic moment doesn't ring true, and their relationship isn't explored in any depth.
Which is too bad, because this would make a great premise for a film with a strong script and two stellar performers. As it is, Dafoe seems to be freaking out into a vacuum. In a brief appearance as Skye's mom (with whom she Skypes), '70s model-actress Anita Pallenberg provides the sort of intensity the film needs, even though she's babbling guru-speak about "transcendenting" the catastrophe.
Like her, Ferrara appears to have a more hopeful (and spiritually inclined) vision of the end of the world than does the dour Lars von Trier. But the ending of Melancholia reduced me to tears. 4:44 just left me relieved it was over.
Other New Releases You May Have Missed
- Black Butterflies (biopic about South African poet Ingrid Jonker)
- Casa di mi Padre (Will Ferrell in a fake telenovela. Look for a review in next Wednesday's paper!)
- The Fairy (a "Tati-inspired romp" from Belgium)
- Get the Gringo (Mel Gibson stars in this action pic that went straight to DVD)
- Intruders (psychological horror with Clive Owen)
- Mamitas (high school relationship drama set in East L.A.)
- Mysteria (Hollywood screenwriter finds himself solving a mystery)
- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (highly acclaimed murder mystery in unusual setting)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)