Wednesday, January 12, 2022

It's January. Do we need to wake up yet?


The Pink Cloud

     The thing about January, at least in terms of movies, is that there’s not much to say. Many moviegoers are still catching up with last year’s best efforts. Moreover, a kind of tacit acknowledgment among the movie faithful promises that nothing terribly significant will happen before the new year tightens its grip on the collective consciousness.
    I’m excluding deaths, which this January included Peter Bogdanovich and Sidney Poitier. 
     Sad news aside, it’s with low-voltage spirit — or maybe it’s just a mood — that I turned my attention to two movies that have the year 2022 firmly affixed to their release. 
    I begin with Shattered, a movie that falls into the category commonly known as thrillers. Such movies often tell stories in which crime figures prominently.  The nastier the crime, the bigger the supposed thrills.
     Classified as a thriller, Shattered caught my attention because it features an appearance by John Malkovich.  Malkovich can project a judgmental quality embellished by hints of superiority. He knows how to add a sinister garnish to a commonly turned phrase.
    Unfortunately for Shattered, Malkovich portrays a minor character, a motel operator whom the screenplay eventually feeds to its femme fatale, a conniving woman who inflicts pain and death with an angelic, choir-girl smile plastered on her face.
     Shot from certain angles, this woman (Lilly Krug) looks beautifully innocent. We’re meant to understand that a lonely, newly divorced tech whiz (Cameron Monaghan) could easily be infatuated by her.
     Having sold his company for a mega-fortune, our tech whiz has moved into an isolated house in Montana that reeks of modernism. 
      Shattered involves a home invasion with a twist. The homeowner -- Chris by name -- invites the perpetrator into his house after she offers to nurse him back to health. While walking to his car with his new love interest, Chris was attacked by a pipe-wielding thug. The result: a badly broken leg.
    The screenplay touches the expected bases. We’re briefly introduced to Chris's former wife (Sasha Luss) and his young daughter (Ridely Asher Bateman), a sure sign that they will re-emerge at some later point.
       Krug's Sky has no interest in the tech whiz aside from the fact that he’s rich. Predictably heartless, she's unfazed by the sadistic impulse required to drill into the cast that encases Chris's mangled leg. She wants to steal Chris's identity and take his fortune. She's cruel but shallow.
       Just in case we didn't know that Sky is up to no good, she also murders her lesbian lover and roommate (Ash Santos), having moved in with Santos's character because her digs offered a view of the tech whiz’s home. Sky used a telescope to case the joint.
      Eventually, Sky's partner in crime (Frank Grillo) shows up, perhaps for no other reason than to break the sadistic monotony of Sky’s cruel rampage. 
      A familiar, played-out story leaves us to wonder how much we're supposed to care about an MIT grad who seems to have over-achieved himself into what looks like early and pointless retirement.
       Formula hardly matters in movies anymore but character still does, and Shattered’s crew falls low on the interest scale.
       Nothing about The Pink Cloud -- an allegorical offering from Brazil -- qualifies the movie as a thriller. Though shot before COVID, the movie acquires topical resonance in these days of quarantine and isolation, which -- as I'll explain later -- becomes a double-edged sword.
       The Pink Cloud poses an interesting question: What would happen if you found yourself quarantined with a stranger with whom you’d just had a sexual encounter? What if a diverting afternoon's   pleasure suddenly turned into a kind of sentence?
        So goes the fate of Giovana (Renata de Lelis) and Yago (Eduardo Madonna), the unfortunate duo that learns they are stuck in Giovana's apartment after a lethal pink cloud descends on their  town. 
   Once exposed to the mysterious cloud, death occurs within 10 seconds.
    The situation might have been bearable for both Giovana and Yago had it not gone for years. But the damn cloud won't go away.
     As time passes, the movie’s reluctant couple deals with the birth of a son, the result of their first encounter. They eventually tire of each other and seek ways to escape their isolation. He tries virtual relationships and she immerses in a virtual reality mask that enables her to simulate the experience of lying on a sandy beach. 
       Pink Cloud explores relationships in pressure cookers while glancing at parental responsibilities in a severely limited world. 
     Interesting stuff, but the movie solves some of its problems a bit too easily. Food and other purchases are delivered through a tube that attaches to one of the apartment's windows. It’s not clear how the movie's implied economy works. 
    And, of course,  neither we nor the characters know where the cloud came from. Perhaps, it originated in Metaphor Land, inviting comparison to any situation in which the atmosphere suddenly turns toxic.
    Director Iuli Gerbase's employs a couple of Zoom calls and FaceTime exchanges to open things up, but the movie centers around the way Giovana and Yago differ. Simply put, she yearns for the outside world; he comes to terms with confinement and may even like it.
    The two actors are good, but haven't we had a taste of isolation and sensory deprivation during the past couple of Covid years? The idea of experiencing more of it in a movie may not be the most appealing of prospects. 
    It may be odd to say but Gerbase seems to have made the movie too effective for its own good. I appreciated the effort but wanted out.

    So that’s early January. 
     I want to say something about Poitier. Poitier became a star when I was a kid. I saw The Defiant Ones (1958) at the Embassy Theater in North Bergen, New Jersey. I remember thinking that Tony Curtis, with a southern accent by way of New York, was no match for Poitier. 
     With its italicized symbolism — white and black convicts chained to each other and on the run — survives more as a social artifact than a telling statement about race in America.  
     Times have changed but current views about race haven't impinged on Poitier’s movie-star status. 
    If I had to pick a favorite Poitier movie it would be Raisin in the Sun, a 1961 big-screen adaptation of Loraine Hansberry’s play. As Walter Lee Younger, Poitier gave one of his angriest, most vulnerable performances. He made us feel Walter Lee’s delusions, as well as the intensity of his desire to break the bonds of a suffocating job as a white man’s chauffeur.
     Like most memorable actors, Poitier infused his work with flavors (anger, conviction, and stature among them) that suggest far more than what was often written on the pages of the screenplays he brought to life.  
       He was one of the greats. 

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