Saturday, March 24, 2012

In Theaters/On VOD: 4:44: LAST DAY ON EARTH (2012)

(Chile/France/US - 2012)

Written and directed by Abel Ferrara.  Cast: Willem Dafoe, Shanyn Leigh, Paul Hipp, Natasha Lyonne, Anita Pallenberg, Paz de la Huerta.  (Unrated, 82 mins).

Whether it's the doomy prophecies of the 2012 Mayan calendar or just societal unease and malaise in general, the apocalypse film has definitely made a comeback.  Sure, we've seen a zombie horror resurgence in the last decade, but I'm talking "serious" examination of the end of the world.  In the last year, we've had ANOTHER EARTH and TAKE SHELTER touching on these themes in their own unique ways.  Lars von Trier's brilliant MELANCHOLIA dealt with the subject in a more direct fashion, and this summer, it gets a more comedic (?) take with the Steve Carell/Keira Knightley-starring SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.  But now, legendary NYC-based indie wildman Abel Ferrara brings us his own vision of the world's end and it mostly looks like an Abel Ferrara home movie.  That is, when it doesn't look like an end-of-semester visual essay by the most annoying person in your Digital Multimedia class.  Ferrara has long been one of the most visceral, exciting voices in independent cinema.  Films like MS. 45, FEAR CITY, KING OF NEW YORK, BAD LIEUTENANT, and THE FUNERAL to name just a few, have forever cemented his significance to indie and cult cinema (and I even like DANGEROUS GAME!).  He's mainly been doing documentaries in recent years, like the sincere but rambling CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS.  His 2007 film GO-GO TALES got great word-of-mouth overseas but has yet to be really be seen in the US outside of festival showings.  Is there some reason GO-GO TALES still hasn't been released on DVD here?

But back to 4:44: LAST DAY ON EARTH.  The depletion of the ozone layer has happened faster than experts anticipated, and the world is set to end at 4:44 am the next morning.  We don't know how long this has been known, but the characters in the film seem to have already accepted it.  Most of the film takes place in the Lower East Side loft of bohemian couple Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Ferrara's longtime girlfriend Shanyn Leigh).  After an oddly tightly-shot sex scene where we get a close up shot of Leigh running her fingers through Dafoe's pubes, Skye smears paint on a canvas and listens to a Buddhist monk on TV while Cisco talks to a friend on the phone, journals, Skypes with another buddy having a jam session, dances a little, watches old footage of Al Gore being interviewed by Charlie Rose, walks out on the roof of his building to see a guy at a nearby building jump off the fire escape.  Cisco and Skye's loft is the kind of place where a nice HDTV sits on a milk crate (I wouldn't be surprised if this is actually Ferrara's and Leigh's residence).  They have Chinese takeout delivered and let the delivery guy Skype with his family back home in an undeniably poignant scene which nevertheless brings up one important question:  the world's got about eight hours left and you show up for work?

Cisco gets in touch with his teenage daughter, and their Skype chat is interrupted by his still-angry ex, and when Skye finds them talking, they have a huge fight and recovering addict Cisco goes to visit an old buddy Noah (Paul Hipp) in the hopes of scoring some heroin.  Cisco's two years clean, and Noah talks him out of it.  Cisco gets some anyway, and tries to shoot up back at home but Skye catches him.  They reconcile, Skye paints some more, Cisco walks outside to see strange green clouds swirling through the sky, the power goes out, they make love one last time ("Come inside me," Skye whispers).  As they hold each other, Ferrara cuts to stock news footage seemingly edited together at random, and as Cisco and Skye hold each other, the screen fades to white at 4:44 am.

KING OF NEW YORK, it's not.

Ferrara likes doing projects with these edgy, off-the-cuff, in-the-moment kinds of intense scenes with actors.  It's likely why his dalliances with major studios (like his unsuccessful but not-without-interest 1993 version of BODY SNATCHERS for Warner Bros) never led to anything.  Ferrara's not a studio guy, and that's great.  But he's the kind of filmmaker who has difficulty staying focused if left too much on his own.  His best films, like the ones I mentioned earlier, have that distinct Ferrara feel but they're complete stories.  4:44: LAST DAY ON EARTH represents a Ferrara making it up as it goes along and letting the chips fall where they may.  It's a thoroughly self-indulgent film that feels like it exists because he wanted to put his significant other in a starring role.  Leigh is a terrible actress, and there may not be a more unintentionally funnier scene in 2012 than her batshit meltdown at finding Cisco Skyping with his ex.  It's the kind of hilarious scene that becomes a viral sensation once it hits YouTube.  Dafoe is OK here, I suppose.  He's worked with Ferrara several times (including GO-GO TALES and the 1999 misfire NEW ROSE HOTEL, which is probably Ferrara's worst film) and, despite his Hollywood notoriety, Dafoe is one of those bohemian types who probably feels more at home in risk-taking, far-from-the-mainstream fare like this and Lars von Trier's controversial ANTICHRIST, but I'm starting to think he does these kinds of edgy arthouse projects because they give him a chance to get naked onscreen with much younger women, like Asia Argento in NEW ROSE HOTEL and Charlotte Gainsbourg in ANTICHRIST.  Sure, that SPIDER-MAN and JOHN CARTER money is nice, but an actor has other needs.

You know, with all the TVs, monitors, laptops, and tablets displaying various media in Cisco & Skye's loft (and honestly, didn't you groan a little when you read the names "Cisco" and "Skye"?), it's too bad none of these devices was Netflix streaming Don McKellar's 1998 Canadian film LAST NIGHT, which seems to be the main inspiration for this new trend of character-driven apocalypse cinema, but no one seems eager to admit it.  LAST NIGHT is a great underseen film that was probably inspired more by the now-laughable, pants-shitting paranoia of pre-Y2K, but it still holds up today, with a final scene that gets me every time.  With 4:44: LAST DAY ON EARTH, it's great to see that Ferrara can once again get a film distributed in the US, but I just wish he had something to say.

Streaming on Netflix.  Watch this film.

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