Dark Summer (2000)

vt Innocents
US, Germany, Canada / 92 minutes / color / Cinerenta, Cineinnocent, Credo, Adagio Dir & Scr: Gregory Marquette Pr: Terry Carr, Gail Tilson Cine: Bruce Worrall Cast: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Connie Nielsen, Mia Kirshner, Keith David, Joseph Culp, James Quill, Robert Culp, Anne Archer, Frank Langella, Trae Thomas, Charles Knecht, Kent Allen, Jack Semple.

Dark Summer - 0 opener

Parisian cellist Gerard Huxley (Anglade), in the US to teach at the Juillard School in NYC, is driving cross-country when he’s forced off the road and into a cornfield. The next he knows he’s in hospital being tended by pretty nurse Megan Denright (Nielsen). On his discharge, she invites him back to her remote home for dinner before he continues his journey to Seattle. He meets her younger (and very much shorter) sister Dominique (Kirshner), who’s obviously somewhat eccentric, and their bedridden father Robert (Langella), who gives him a dismissive criticism of his cello-playing.

Dark Summer - 1 Langella as the bedridden father

Robert (Frank Langella) minces no words in his critique of Gerard’s cello playing.

Soon afterward, Gerard learns that Robert has died. After the funeral, he again goes back to the Denright home, this time sleeping with Continue reading

Maison sous les Arbres, La (1971)

vt The Deadly Trap; vt Death Scream
France, Italy / 96 minutes / color / Corona, Pomereu, Oceania Dir: René Clément Pr: Robert Dorfmann, Bertrand Javal Scr: Sydney Buchman, Eleanor Perry Story: The Children Are Gone (1965) by Arthur Cavanaugh Cine: Andreas Winding Cast: Faye Dunaway, Frank Langella, Barbara Parkins, Karen Blanguernon, Raymond Gérôme, Maurice Ronet, Michèle Lourie, Patrick Vincent, Gérard Buhr.

Maison Sous les Arbres - 0 opener

Two Americans, Jill Halard (Dunaway) and her scientist husband Philippe (Langella), live in their Paris apartment with their children Cathy (Lourie) and Patrick (Vincent). There’s a sense that Philippe has fled a project or situation that he disliked in the US, because he’s now copyediting science books for a French publisher. At the start of the movie he’s contacted by a spokesman (Ronet) for “The Organization” with an offer to go back to his old work to carry out, in noirish parlance, One Last Job. When Philippe hotly refuses, the persuasions turns to veiled threats against his family, which threats he treats as just so much rhetoric.

Maison Sous les Arbres - 3 PatrickPatrick (Patrick Vincent) finds a new toy.

Maison Sous les Arbres - 1 CathyCathy (Michèle Lourie) tries to hold the family together.

But then things do indeed start going alarmingly awry with the Halards’ world. While Philippe is off at a conference in Toulouse, Jill and the kids are Continue reading

Caller, The (2008)

US / 92 minutes / color / Chapeau, Belladonna Dir: Richard Ledes Pr: René Bastian, Linda Moran, Richard Ledes Scr: Alain Didier-Weill, Richard Ledes Cine: Stephen Kazmierski Cast: Frank Langella, Elliott Gould, Laura Harring, Anabel Sosa, Helen Stenborg, Marion Servole, Edoardo Ballerini, Axel Feldmann, Grégory Ellis.

Jimmy Stephens (Langella) is a “numbers guy” who cooks up over-optimistic financial projections for US energy corporations so that the latter can use these figures in order to exploit developing countries and saddle them with debts they can never afford to repay. Sickened by the practices of the E.N. Corporation, whose habits include slaughtering foreigners who “fail to understand” the merits of having their nations economically ruined, he decides to blow their whole scam wide open—in so doing, of course, signing his own death warrant.

The corporation commissions a hit on him via artist and fixer Teddy (Ballerini), but Jimmy does a deal to postpone the killing by two weeks. During that time he makes his peace with his half-senile mother (Stenborg), his chanteuse girlfriend Eileen (Harring) and the local child whom he and Eileen have taken under their wing, Lila (Sosa). As importantly, he hires by phone—using a voice modulator and the false name John Doe—small-time PI Frank Turlotte (Gould) to follow one Jimmy Stephens (i.e., himself).

There are frequent flashbacks to rural France in 1940, where two small boys, fleeing through the forest from German strafing, encounter a dying man. The older boy, Lulu (Ellis), persuades the younger, Jimmy (Feldmann), to keep going with promises that they’ll eventually reach Salsparello, a place where they’ll be safe and their parents will be restored to them. It soon becomes evident to us that the two boys went their different ways in life, with the dependent Jimmy growing up to be the solid financial analyst Stephens, and Lulu, the steadfast rock, becoming the down-at-heel, somewhat whiny private dick. What Stephens manages to engineer is that Frank renders him the same service which the youthful Frank, Lulu, did for the dying man in the forest: to be his witness as he dies, so that he’ll not die alone and his death will have meaning.

The movie was much disliked by critics who seemingly either expected it to be a corporate-crime thriller, and were baffled when the mystery it was supposedly all about was laid out plainly in the first few minutes, or failed to watch it attentively; an astonishing example of the latter is Stephen Holden’s New York Times review, which is riddled with elementary errors concerning what he (supposedly) saw.

What the movie is actually about is the search to give our deaths, if not also our lives, some meaning; the corporate-crime element of the plot and the commissioning of the hit are merely devices to enable the movie’s real tale to be told. In that aim it succeeds so well, and with such frequent exquisiteness of craft, that I found myself checking and doublechecking to make sure it wasn’t a remake of a French or Italian original.

Langella gives a superb, measured performance, and there’s one that’s almost as good from Gould; also of note are the turns of Stenborg and especially Sosa, as the intelligent child striving to be wise beyond her years.

On Amazon.com: The Caller