by InRO Staff Feature Articles Featured Film

Before We Vanish | August 2019: La Flor, Luce, and One Child Nation

August 23, 2019

OK, so things don’t really vanish anymore: even the most limited film release will (most likely, eventually) find its way onto some streaming service or into some DVD bargain bin assuming that those still exist by the time this sentence finishes. In other words, while the title of In Review Online’s new monthly feature devoted to current domestic and international arthouse releases in theaters will hopefully bring attention to a deeply underrated (even by us) Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, it isn’t a perfect title. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to catch-up with films before some… other things happen. | Our August issue offers takes on films big — literal, in one case, with 13 1/2-hour La Flor, as well Sundance hit Luce; small, including a trio of entries from this year’s ND/NF festival — End of the Century, The Load, and Genesis; and others in between. 

La Flor

Argentine director Mariano Llinás‘s La Flor is a project ten years in the making, and an ode to the sort of movies that filmmakers once made the world over, “with their eyes closed” — to quote Llinás himself, who introduces his film in its prologue (and shows up sporadically throughout). La Flor is less a single film, though, than it is six disparate genre experiments that contort and short circuit themselves, each other, and ultimately the whole itself: a Lewton-esque B-film; a The Seventh Victim-tinged musical; a six-hour-long send up of spy films that reminds one of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 by way of Olivier Assayas’s Carlos; a meta-reflexive ‘who-knows-what’ film-within-a-film about the making of a film that goes horribly wrong on account of madness and witches; a remake of Jean Renoir’s incomplete A Day in the Country; and finally, before some 40 minutes of credits to the inverted image of a camera obscura shooting the production crew packing up, there is — in what is ostensibly an adaptation of a memoir belonging to Sarah S. Evans , but also looks to be a riff on D.W. Griffith’s 1912 short film The Female of the Species — a gauzily shot silent feature about four women escaping captivity at the hands of their land’s natives.

Needless to say, there’s already a lot going on here — and yet, there’s more! All but the fifth part of La Flor makes use of the same four actresses: Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes, all of the theater troupe Piel de Lava (‘Lava Skin’). These women are, undeniably, Llinás’s muses, as is clear from both their presence and their absence. The first four films here also have beginnings and middles, but no ends; the fifth is a whole; and the final portion begins in media res and continues to an end, though perhaps less for itself and more for the project as a whole. Should that outline exhaust the reader, it is fittingly emblematic of the work itself: La Flor ever trends toward excess and parody, to the point that one can’t help shake the sense that it was conceived, and filmed, with Llinás’s own “eyes closed,” to twist the director’s words. A criticism, perhaps. La Flor borders on incoherence, at least in relation to the rules that have dominated narrative cinema. The only structure and purpose present throughout is the desire to pay tribute to both the female performers that energize the work and the old movies that Llinás obviously adores — alongside adhering to the arbitrary rules that the cast and crew have set for themselves (six parts, varying degrees of narrative completion, and a mostly fixed cast).

There are worse things to endure, and I’m sympathetic to Scout Tafoya’s probing question (“How many [movies of this length] are there in a calendar year?”), which maybe is reason enough for the film’s existence, if not for watching it. There is also undeniable joy in seeing an image, or genre-trapping, cease simply paying homage and become something of its own — just as the film’s flirtations with parody can shift, powerfully, toward pathos; or to witness something obviously beautiful, like the lengthy sequence of aerobatic show planes flying around each other, that seems to arise out of nothing, and for no clear reason; or, indeed, to get so lost in such free-wheeling play that one is, per part four’s metatextual joke, literally unable to see the forest for the trees. Beyond any of this, though, La Flor‘s principle power may rest in observing performers exploring the full extent of their capacities, with total freedom; and, as well, in comprehending that this writer-director is coming up against his limits, courtesy of a blind fidelity to these performers, cinematic genre history, and the creative process as such. In utterly fitting response to all of this, La Flor is, throughout, at the very edge of perpetual self-implosion and reassembly. Do its 868 minutes justify such an excess? Who knows; in truth, probably not, but one wouldn’t expect anything different from a project whose object was to resurrect the facility to make a film “with…eyes closed.” Matt McCracken

The Nightingale

There’s been an interesting spate of feminist, or at least female-led, westerns recently; there’s Tommy Lee Jones’s The Homesman, a dark film that suggests the only rational response to being a woman on the frontier is to go insane. There’s Kelly Reichardt’s masterpiece Meek’s Cutoff, the well-intentioned misfire Jane Got a Gun, and earlier this year saw the limited release of Emma Tammi’s The Wind, a superb genre piece which concocts a horror story out of a woman’s isolation on the frontier in the early 19th century. The Wind is clearly indebted to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook; Kent’s The Nightingale is a disturbingly brutal tale of colonialism in the Australian outback in the 1820s. Aisling Franciosi gives a fearless performance as Clare, a young Irish woman and convict who has been pressed into the service of Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) at a British military outpost in Tasmania. Clare has ended her term of indentured service to Hawkins, but he refuses to release her. When Clare’s husband, Aidan (Michael Sheasby), confronts Hawkins, Hawkins and his men kill him and Clare’s baby and leave her for dead. She wakes up, determined to track him down and exact revenge for her family. She enlists the help of Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal native who has his own reasons to hate the British.

There’s a lot of threads of animosity here, including Irish vs. British, white vs. black, and man vs. woman. Make no mistake, The Nightingale is ceaselessly, unsparingly, unendingly horrific. The film might very well be unwatchable, even, if it wasn’t so absolutely necessary — a bracing rejoinder declaiming that bigotry and violent sexism are built into the very foundational myths of our society, that patriarchy and capitalism are intermingled. White men are a plague spreading over women and indigenous peoples like an ocean of depravity. The Tasmanian landscape is an uncaring observer, offering no respite or beauty but a kind of cosmic indifference. Kent and cinematographer Radek Ladczuk have leached the color out of the forest, lending everything a murky hue of gray and brown. The film is shot in a squarish academy ratio, boxing in the characters and creating a kind of anxiety inducing claustrophobia. Kent films faces in devastating close ups, forcing us to look deeply into people’s eyes as they either perpetrate or lay victim to an atrocity. The Nightingale is plainspoken and forceful about dealing with the trauma of the past while refusing easy catharsis. The only respite here is screaming in the face of your murderer, declaring ‘I’m still here,’ even if it’s simply shouting into the void. Daniel Gorman

Them That Follow

A religious drama set among the Pentecostal snake handlers of Appalachia, there are any number of paths that Them That Follow could have taken to deliver a compelling film. An insider’s look at a culture rarely seen by the average moviegoer? A probing examination of what drives these individuals to such extreme measures? But first-time writing and directing duo Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage make the bizarre decision to use their unique setting as mere window dressing for a banal love triangle — one which makes the struggles of the central trio from the Twilight series seem profound in comparison. Preacher’s daughter Dilly (Alice Englert) discovers that she is pregnant with the child of non-believer Augie (Thomas Mann), even though she has already pledged herself to the devout Garret (Lewis Pullman). To say that this inspires a crisis of faith within our leading lady would imply that something of interest happens — but Englert doesn’t so much act as she does sulk for 98 minutes, while Dilly’s two paramours both inexplicably profess that their actions are a direct result of the power she wields over them. Luckily, Walton Goggins is on hand to distract as Daddy Snake Handler (no, this is not his name), while recent Oscar winner Olivia Colman does what she can with her underwritten role as Generic Bitchy Mom. The solemnity here is what is truly surprising, though — since the film is pitched in a way that otherwise almost borders on camp. Not even the unexpected appearance of a reciprocating saw at the end, though — used for appropriately nefarious reasons, and intercut with a snake treating Englert like a human jungle gym — can enliven Them That Follow. This is a glacially-paced, dire, and ultimately exploitative affair. Thou shalt watch something else. Steven Warner

End of the Century

If José Luis Guerín’s In the City of Sylvia (2007) were reconceived as a contemporary gay drama, its opening might look something like the first minutes of Lucio Castro’s ND/NF 2019 entry End of the Century. Following a handsome fortyish man named Ocho (Juan Barberini) as he wanders the streets of Barcelona, browses Grindr, and jacks off alone in a tasteful Airbnb, the film is pleasingly languid, refreshingly bereft of outright incident. Unlike the floppy-haired flâneur of Sylvia, Ocho isn’t looking for anyone in particular. But when he later hooks up with Javi (Ramon Pujol), a guy with whom he shares a Before Sunrise-esque night in the city, he seems to have found that rarest of connections; he even feels as if they’d met before. To this, Javi responds: “We have.” The cut that follows is an unquestionable high note of Castro’s film, transforming what had up to that point been a low-key, naturalistic pleasure into something far more unsettled and high-concept. Immediately after, we find ourselves once again in Barcelona, with Ocho once again wandering the city streets — though as a later incident makes clear, he hasn’t yet come to terms with his attraction to men. Through canny elisions, Castro attempts to draw out the absurd beauty of Ocho’s transformative chance encounters, creating — intentionally or not — a fitting complement to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011). But if End of the Century comes to feel like the less satisfying of the two, that’s largely because Castro overplays his hand. The particulars of how Javi re-enters the picture are best left for discovery, but suffice it to say that in building End of the Century towards a note of wistful longing, Castro neutralizes the productively ambiguous desires that animate the majority of his film. What had been, for a time, a seductively amorphous story, reveals itself to be a conventional tale of regret. And for the viewer, as well as its characters, it’s one that’s all too familiar. Lawrence Garcia

One Child Nation

It shouldn’t surprise that a documentary tackling China’s population-curbing one-child policy, effectuated in the late 1970s and lasting until 2015, provides innately dramatic material, but One Child Nation is nonetheless frequently jolting in the particular avenues it navigates. Co-directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, it’s the former whose presence informs the film, her interrogations leading the viewer down an organically-realized rabbit hole of authoritarian indoctrination and state-sponsored criminality. Wang proves an even-tempered guide; many of the film’s best moments are matter-of-factly presented, even as they implicitly assail the director. In what is perhaps One Child Nation’s most aching and illustrative scene, Wang (whose name even undermines her existence, nan meaning man and fu meaning pillar) canvasses a cluster of porch-sat grandfathers, including her own, regarding their thoughts on grandchildren – the consensus goes beyond an almost religious preference for grandsons to even include a bias for those born of the paternal line. This study in cultural misogyny — which was not born of, but rather found validation in, the one-child policy — represents the best of Wang’s instincts; her commitment to an investigative ethos rather than thesis-driven documentarianism means she is free to follow compelling digressions.

Likewise indebted to this approach is the film’s second-half shift into breadcrumb narrative. As the mechanisms for living under the one-child policy become more clearly rendered – namely, the abandonment, kidnapping, and sale of babies – Wang turns her humanist eye on more institutional hypocrisies and transgressions. The twinned elements of this enterprise — which involve the forced withdrawal from homes or street-side discovery of children, their sale to a state orphanage, and China’s exorbitant profits from subsequent international adoptions — work as a tight analogy of the relationship between the country’s emerging, stealth capitalism and its continued attestation of collective ideals over this time period. Yet for all this rich and moving thematic material and fluid probing, the co-directors frustratingly display little formal vigor, compositions largely alternating between bland and distracting, sometimes upsetting the film’s moving authenticity and failing to justify film as a necessary medium. But much of this seems forgivable after One Child Nation’s final third: in a memorable scene, Wang constructs a quick-cut montage of several of the film’s subjects spouting homogenous, propagandist bromides, clearly haunted but unwilling to blame either self or state. Here, it’s not the dehumanizing policies of authoritarian overreach that linger and indict, but the weathered faces of these women, who have been devalued, stripped of their autonomy, and suffered forced conformity, echoing the destructive language of powerful men. Luke Gorham


More sentient discourse than credible drama, Julius Onah’s Luce frankensteins together a collection of button-pushers: issues of race, class, privilege, elitism, tokenism, essentialism, free will, mental health, radical ideologies, sexual assault, social media’s distortions, police brutality, and on and on. One could charitably call Luce its generation’s American Beauty, so intent is it on making a sweeping statement about suburban social life in America in the late 2010s. But it misses that already low bar; it’s closer to something like Jason Reiman’s [technophobic] Men, Women & Children, in that nearly every minute is smugly, and cynically, focused on using its narrative and its characters as vehicles for a half-baked sociology lesson. Unlike Reitman’s roundly panned dog, though, people actually seem to be buying into the supposed complexity of Luce, a film about a black high school student (Kelvin Harrison Jr., the titular Luce) whose life began in war-torn Eritrea, where he was a child soldier until white adoptive parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) brought him to the U.S. and put him through years of therapy. Now Luce is his school’s star athlete and on track to be valedictorian, a pressure that earns him special attention from one teacher (Octavia Spencer), who brands Luce an example of overcoming adversity.

Onah uses the eventual conflict that arises between Luce and his teacher, one largely rooted in several convenient instances of miscommunication, as a means for lengthy exchanges that name-check “civil rights” and (ugh) Independence Day, but the words and their meanings aren’t nearly as important as the generalized feelings of tension — and most of all fear — that they’re meant to stoke. Luce steadily ratchets up suspense just as steadily as it betrays any coherence to its characters’ psychologies: Luce’s parents vacillate between advocacy for their embattled son to deep distrust l of his motives, before becoming  active accomplices, changes not triggered by the dynamics of their relationship but by the need for disorientation necessitated by this highbrow thriller’s twisty plot. Luce himself is the real reason why this film doesn’t work though — which isn’t to say Harrison doesn’t give the role everything he has, trying to make some kind of sense out of a cypher who code switches between sociopathy and earnest sincerity whenever the script clumsily calls for it. “I’m not gonna be somebody’s symbol just to make them feel better,” declares Luce toward the end here — a line Onah somehow wrote without seeing the irony. This film uses Luce expressly as a symbol — first as a calculated bid at provoking the liberal American, and then to make them feel good about having subjected themselves to the ideological provocations that Luce encompasses. Call it wokespoitation. Sam C. Mac

The Load

Serbian director Ognjen Glavonic‘s The Load is so minimal and austere that its title – nominally referring to the cargo carried in the truck driven by its protagonist, Vlada (Leon Lucev) – immediately takes on metaphorical meaning. The film’s basic setup — illicit material being transported over dangerous terrain — has been described as an oblique riff on Henri-Georges Cluzot’s 1953 thriller The Wages of Fear. However, Glavonic’s film is, almost perversely, an anti-thriller; long stretches offer little more than observation of the mostly taciturn Vlada grimly navigating the road. The film is set in 1999, during the Balkan wars, as NATO is conducting its bombing campaign against Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. In the midst of this war-torn atmosphere, Vlada is taken to a warehouse in Kosovo and assigned a truck with sealed cargo in the back, the contents of which he’s not allowed to ask about. He’s given strict instructions to go directly, without making stops of any kind, to the drop-off destination in Belgrade. While en route, Vlada immediately encounters a blocked bridge and is forced to make a detour, one which proves a literal manifestation of the film’s main structural conceit: the proceedings largely remain fixed on the protagonist, but veer away from him periodically, with panning shots which briefly follow secondary characters. It’s not until a very late scene that we can guess what Vlada’s been carrying, the clues along the way being so subtle that they’re easy to miss. In fact, the film withholds so much that the vague details Glavonic does offer can easily sail over the heads of viewers not familiar with the history of the 1990s Balkan wars, or the specific war crime referred to here (for that information, you’ll have to go to Glavonic’s 2016 documentary, Depth Two, which gives a fuller description of a context only hinted at in The Load). In the end, plenty of doubts are left as to whether this film has much to say of its own accord — especially as The Load tends to register more with a kind of muted admiration for the filmmaking, rather than elicit the sorrow and outrage that would be demanded of the subject it only alludes to. Christopher Bourne

What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?

What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? is a documentary with an almost confounding resolve to simply document. Given the subject matter — the intertwined lives of four different groups of African-Americans living in the deep South during the summer of 2017 — one might expect activism to be this film’s central goal, or an objective that attempts to directly engage with a viewer’s sense of moral outrage. But director Roberto Minervini doesn’t see his subjects as catalysts for reform, but rather as flesh and blood humans forced to confront the brutal realities of the racist country in which they live. They’re survivors: from youths (brothers Ronald and Titus) who are born into poverty, to the public at large (the New Black Panther Party), who conduct outreach while trying to fight back, with their cries — calling for “justice” in regards to the murder of Alton Sterling in a distended sequences towards the end — falling on deaf ears. It’s through these societal failures that Minervini’s able to distantly observe the intersection between the personal and the political, documenting fallout from the failure to properly address the staggering correlation between the two. For a woman like Judy Hill, a middle-aged musician on the verge of losing her bar, the failure of her business isn’t just something she alone is burdened with, but also a sign of imminent gentrification that thousands face. For Minervini, these issues ripple beyond the scope of what one film can do, so he wisely chooses to give a platform to those who have been made voiceless, effectively capturing the inner pain of those who continue to withstand oppression. Paul Attard


So what exactly ‘begins’ in Philippe Lesage’s Genesis? That’s a question that’s almost too deceptively simple to answer: love, of course (the film’s poster even presents its principle characters, Noée Abita’s Charlotte and Theodore Pellerin’s Guillaume, in the shape of an ‘L’), though unsurprisingly, this is a love that’s difficult to maintain. Lesage in fact brings attention to this by opening Genesis east of Eden, rather than in the garden itself, its characters living in the aftermath of innocence. The film’s dual structure initially follows the respective, fledgling relationships of Charlotte and Guillaume — siblings, whose naivete and innocence become apparent as they meet the inescapable dangers and subtle manipulations of the surrounding world. Lesage achieves both of these extremes through an exacting mise-en-scène that repeatedly centers his protagonists in the frame, and employs static shots and extended duration to great effect — particularly in the most startling moments, as when a character makes a strikingly miscalculated and earnest declaration of romantic feeling, or when another character becomes victim to the lures of city nightlife and drinking culture. In these scenes, the powerhouse performances help articulate the extent of the forces that are ‘striking at the heels’ of the characters. And then comes Genesis’s second act, which serves as a radical departure from the first, and its latent cruelties; it serves as a (possibly atemporal) return to Eden. At this point, one could then reasonably ask: what is it that ‘begins’ here? And that question would be more difficult to answer — it’s hard to even comprehend Lesage’s intentions. Is this part of Genesis a retroactive, even mythical, affirmation of innocence? Is it an oblique warning, something like ‘protect one’s burgeoning moments of longing for another’? Or does this epilogue’s youthful, heterosexual romance betray Genesis? Following an opening that saw the protagonists’ attempts at non-traditional relationships and loves so completely dashed, this critique is a fair one. But Lesage’s sophomore feature ultimately furthers what’s proving to be a promising and thoughtful career — even as the film struggles under the weight of its lofty ambitions. Matt McCracken

After the Wedding

Nobody knows bland, affluent white people quite like writer-director Bart Freundlich, a filmmaker who has made a career out of chronicling the interior struggles of the Haves and the Haves. From his debut feature, 1997’s The Myth of Fingerprints, all the way through 2016’s Wolves, Freundlich has never met a premise he couldn’t infuse with pseudo-philosophical musings on damaged souls who are bound by both their emotional shortcomings and their impeccable wardrobes.  That trend continues with After the Wedding, Freundlich’s take on Susanne Bier’s 2006 Danish film of the same name. But whereas Bier was able to wring genuine human pathos out of soap opera shenanigans, such material brings out Freundlich’s worst instincts, resulting in a film that is both wildly over the top and emotionally stunted. Michelle Williams stars as guilt-ridden do-gooder Isabel, who must travel from India to New York to ensure corporate funding for a local orphanage. But a big secret from the past threatens her present as she encounters a former flame (Billy Crudup) and his current wife (Julianne Moore), who just happens to control the endowment that Isabel desperately needs. And things only get sillier from there, although Freundlich certainly knows how to capture a breathtaking sunset from the balcony of a swanky hotel room. Hell, the man even knows how to make a ratty bird’s nest look chic and expensive. It’s hard to discern Freundlich’s true intent, as he seems to believe that his psychological probings are somehow deep and meaningful, when really they are the mark of a man whose idea of culture is a trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Williams and Crudup try hard to bring shading and a sense of realism to their characters, while Moore — Freundlich’s wife, mind you — was apparently directed to deliver a half-assed take on her character from Magnolia. Freundlich’s decision to gender-swap the roles from the original is especially confounding, as it makes the ending borderline misogynistic, as if needing to punish his lead character for past choices. Then again, that ending is delivered with such a shrug that it hardly matters. Which does at least feel true to the spirit of the characters that populate this film; and as well for the the viewer, since it’s pretty hard to get much worked up about anything here. Steven Warner

Kicking the Canon | Film Selection

Director William Friedkin is known as a ‘big’ personality, loud and aggressive and bellicose. He’s been called a bully more often than not (Nat Segaloff’s 1990 critical biography is appropriately titled ‘Hurricane Billy’). But Friedkin is a mess of contradictions, capable of self-critical introspection as well as macho posturing. His films frequently hover in that space between belligerence and artistic self-awareness; The French Connection ends with abject failure for Popeye Doyle; Father Karras in The Exorcist is plagued by crippling self-doubt; The Hunted details PTSD in soldiers after their prolonged exposure to the horrors of war. To Live and Die in L.A. might be the purest expression of this duality, detailing Friedkin’s fascination with daring men of action and the explicit recognition that their machismo is also a kind of death drive. Living on the edge is only exciting until you plummet over it, a realization that comes too late for Agent Richard Chance (oh boy, dig that on the nose last name. No one ever claimed that Friedkin is subtle). An even better title is Thomas Clagett’s ‘William Friedkin: Films of Aberration, Obsession and Reality, updated in a 2nd edition back in 2003. It’s that trifecta of pathologies that really burrow into what makes To Live and Die in L.A. so endlessly fascinating, a slick, sexy cop-on-the-edge thriller that is also unrelentingly bleak and cynical.

The narrative here is like a shark, it just can’t stop moving, piling incident on top of incident. Friedkin and co-writer Gerald Petievich (who also wrote the novel of the same name) cram enough plot in here for at least a few movies, beginning with a prologue sequence that functions as a kind of short film all by itself. Secret Service Agents Chance (William Petersen) and his partner Jimmy Hart (Michael Greene) foil an assassination attempt on a government official that ends with a jihadist exploding on the side of a building. Friedkin builds characters through action and movement, and even before the opening credits he’s established Chance as a go-for-broke wild man, who, um, takes chances, and his partner (who literally utters ‘I’m getting too old for this shit’) as the wiser, more cautious voice of reason. Chance and Hart have been investigating counterfeiter Rick Masters (a young, ominous looking Willem Dafoe) and Hart goes off on his own to track down a lead. Masters guns Hart down, and now Chance is after the man who killed his partner, no matter what it takes. This is a lot of plot, and we could go on; there are interesting side narratives involving a delightfully lizard-like Dean Stockwell as Master’s lawyer, a young John Turturro as a Masters associate that Chance tries to turn into an informant, and Ruth (Darlanne Fluegel), an ex con who feeds Chance information and whom he frequently coerces into sleeping with him (it is in these scenes that Chance’s truly abusive, toxic masculinity shines through, casting his stereotypically ‘heroic’ actions into a much darker light).

But To Live and Die in L.A. is mostly remembered for two big reasons, an amazing car chase and the shocking death of Chance near the end of the film. Friedkin is very open in interviews that he wanted to film a chase sequence that would rival, if not top, the one from his own The French Connection. Typical of this era of film brat (see also Brian De Palma), technical achievements were largely inseparable from dick measuring contests. Friedkin’s excessive display of vulgarity would be more off-putting if he didn’t have the goods to back it up, and the chase he put together with iconic stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker is an absolute thing of beauty.  It’s a long sequence that begins as a suspenseful bit of evasion before expanding into a high speed pursuit and ending in a demolition derby. Friedkin films everything with crystal clarity, keeping spatial relationships coherent and using editing for maximum, forceful impact. After that, Chance’s death is a big, unexpected moment. William Petersen, a stage actor from Chicago in his first big film role (he would appear in Mann’s Manhunter the following year) plays Chance as a big kid, a jock, an over excited meathead who can’t stand still. He’s always moving, crouching, leaping over furniture, fidgeting in his seat. He’s taking every cliche in the cop-on-the-edge playbook and burrowing into them, making them both exciting but also more dangerous. When Chance and his new, straight laced partner John Vukovich (played with cowardly, simpering perfection by John Pankow) try to get the upper hand on Masters, Chance takes a full shot gun blast to the face. It’s sudden and shocking, an unceremonious ending for an increasingly unlikeable protagonist. These kinds of movies simply do not end this way. But Friedkin has already spent the better part of two hours wallowing in the cynicism and violence of contemporary L.A., where no one is innocent and the cops are just as bad as the criminals they are trying to bring down. Working with cinematographer Robby Muller, Friedkin envisions L.A. as blazing hot oranges and deep reds, large swaths of neon lights illuminating scenes in sickly pastels, the humidity soaking into the walls of the shabby apartments and seedy alleys where the action transpires. To Live and Die in L.A. ends in a blazing inferno, an all consuming vision of Hell that is inescapable. As a portrait of the go-go 80’s, clearly, Friedkin took a look around and didn’t like what he saw. Daniel Gorman