An Evening With… Abel Ferrara: The Addiction / Body Snatchers / The Funeral (Review)

abel-ferraraAs long as The King of New York remains lodged in my Blu-Ray collection – which will be forever – I guess I will always be curious when I see the words ‘Directed by Abel Ferrara’.

The reasons for this are mixed and varied. In my limited experience with his movies I have found his use of lengthy silence very effective. I have fund his use of sudden violence effective and visceral. On the flip side I have also found his limited character development and insistence that things implied or insinuated are more powerful than they are, to be frustrating.

I find Ferrara a prisoner of his own abilities. He is capable of squeezing everything out of a script, but he never seems to be able to elevate the material without the skills of a compelling actor. Christopher Walken and Larry Fishburne made The King of New York what it was. Harvey Keitel was the Bad Lieutenant. Without those performances those films might have been… just films.

He is like Takeshi Kitano, a hit and miss director who stays true to what he is – only he lacks the ego to insist upon appearing in his own films.

After reading a blog about Abel Ferrara’s ‘other’ works from the 90s I came to realise he made far more films than I have seen. I decided to rectify that and watch whatever came up on Netflix search. Unfortunately for me these three did, with none of them demanding that I maintain my search through the back catalogue of the occasionally transcendent but all too often frustrating Mr Ferrara.

addictionThe Addiction

The Addiction is a stylish way of telling a story oft told. The result is mildly more tolerable as it is unfolding, but just as forgettable as the rest of the films it resembles.

Our film opens with mature age student Kathleen being confronted by a well dressed beauty on a dark street, dragged into an alley, and bitten…

In the days that follow Kathleen finds herself understandably stressed. She is also exhausted physically and mentally, and suffering from nausea.

Doctors think ‘rest’. Kathleen has other ideas.

Upon the realisation that this was no ordinary ‘street biting’ incident Kathleen decides to ‘own’ her condition, in the only way that vampires (oops; SPOILER) know how.

No longer weak and introverted Kathleen is now strong willed and physically powerful, but as days go on the lust for her vital revitalising fluid becomes overriding, and Kathleen finds that the hunt is dominating her every thought.

If this isn’t enough Christopher Walken appears as one who has already mastered his state of undead being. He tries to preach the values of abstinence and maintenance to Kathleen instead of indulging in succumbing to the hunger.

So by now we know that the title and subject matter are obviously a parable for another addiction, and yes as mentioned this is stylishly presented; filmed in black and white with sparse music and a woozy dreamlike feel.

Ultimately though it is style about substances, without substance. I can see art students and emos lining up to espouse its virtues, but cannot myself see anything here worth lauding. In fact I would think subtracting the vibrant colour and lurid details of vampire life makes The Addiction harder to get hooked on.

This is a vampire film that proves altogether easy to kick.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Abel Ferrara Casts his directing net wide across many topics, but too often he comes back without much to speak of.

funeral_ver1The Funeral

Who can put the ‘fun’ back in ‘funeral’? No-one here.

Johnny (Vincent Gallo) is dead. Just 22 and gunned down in broad daylight, he should be in his prime years. With several suspects (we see in flashbacks that Johnny was a bit of a prick) it’s hard to work out who to direct rage at, but that doesn’t stop some of those returning from the funeral from brainstorming openly.

In the event of any death the family draws together to find strength. This is even more true for an Italian family. Of primary concern are Johnny’s brothers. Brooding family father figure Ray (Christopher Walken) and loose cannon hothead Chaz (Chris Penn). The family looks to Ray for direction and watch Chaz warily. Their reactions will likely shape the coming days and perhaps the fate of the family group.

The set up suggests retribution, and indeed there could be a great revenge film with Walken and Penn going apeshit. But this is directed by Abel Ferrara, a man who is known for doing things his way and taking the alternative route. Unfortunately this isn’t a plus here. The Funeral plays out at an all too ironically literal pace, all talk and for the most part no action. That’s fine in a film with intrigue and drama, but there’s little of that here.

The Funeral is one of those “we’ll tell you everything at the end” films which hasn’t even the decency to try to spring a surprise reveal or a similar trick. Nope, this a drama lacking in much action, wholly competent yes, but unremarkable in almost every way.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Amazing that the man who made The King of New York pop and fizz could make a potential Italian-American revenge film such a snooze.

11167315_oriBody Snatchers: The Invasion Continues

Once again director Abel Ferrara proves impossible to pin down. In choosing to remake a remake – and an acclaimed one no less in Invasion of the Body Snatchers – we again find Mr Ferrara coming up with a couple decent visuals, but ultimately having nothing to say.

This is as close an approximation of ‘John Carpenter in decline’ as I can imagine.
In a small town near an army base the locals are feeling a bit ‘off’. Not all of them, but enough so it is very noticeable.

But no one notices. Not even when some start acting entirely randomly, very differently than usual. Like the Kardashians in public they behave like they think normal people behave, only it isn’t at all like normal people.

Again no one notices. Even when a small child tells his father that ‘Mommy isn’t Mommy’ there is no response. Eventually it takes Mommy to instantly desiccate her entire body and leave the outer skin discarded on the bed like a chocolate wrapper for anyone to think something odd might be happening.

More and more appear to be changed, but not all. Eventually the precious few unaffected band together and…

… The usual stuff happens.

Once again Abel Ferrara manages to make the bland look bearable. But it would seem that a lack of funds was the culprit here. The transformation/takeover sequences look like they were pulled off with plastic tubes and cellophane rather than complicated effects.

You could say that this particular uninvited guest ‘came from outer (outta) money’.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. Don’t let this film stand in the way of tracking down the 1970s classic.

In Summation

Abel Ferrara seems a visual director with little real flair. He selects well know genres and adds a little twist to them, but all too often the twist takes us nowhere new. In the case of The King of New York the twist worked in his favour, mostly thanks to the strength of the lead performances.

But with The Funeral being his twist on gangster movies that focussed on the Real Lives of 1930s crime families, and with The Addiction being his twist on vampires which served to show them as under the influence, his twists take us to frankly boring places. Body Snatchers doesn’t even have a twist, unless he wanted to show that he came make no money look like no money.

I didn’t actually start out determined to have an Abel Ferrara marathon. It just so happened that in trawling my Netflix queue I realised I had a few of his films lined up, so I decided check out some of his lesser known films.

Wish I hadn’t now. Abel Ferrara should be known as the guy who made Bad Lieutenant and The King of New York. They might not have had all his good ideas, but none of these films above show evidence that there was much more in the tank.

OGR

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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