The Vatican’s latest recruitment film, Lost Souls, bitch-smacks the fear of Linda Blair into hapless nonbelievers, proposing agnosticism as the real opiate of the Satan-prone masses. Catholic-school teacher Winona Ryder, lifting Angelina Jolie’s hair and makeup from Girl, Interrupted, moonlights as a “secular adviser” to a crack team of exorcists (including a discomfitingly hammy John Hurt as a priest), who conclude that poor Ben Chaplin’s faith-challenged true-crime author “has an inner emptiness that allows him to become a vessel for evil” (as the zealous, creepy press notes put it).
Longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski makes his directing debut with an evocative putty-colored palette and grainy, desaturated stock, but his choppy narrative style only garbles the nakedly fundamentalist arc of the story. So does the crippling lack of spatial continuity—Ben and Winona (who sure does spend a lot of downtime with somebody who may already be walking on cloven hooves) magically appear inside rooms or stumble into secret Masses like they’re navigating the endless corridors of a haunted Nintendo mansion. Stealing every trick in the Repulsion handbook but crash-landing in Ghostbusters II‘s visual terrain, Lost Souls can be blamed foremost on its fire-and-brimstone screenwriter, Pierce Gardner. Inadvertently hilarious as the film becomes (the abrupt, oh-fuck-it ending is its own punch line), the last thing American popular culture needs right now is a dogma-grounded argument for a moral spectrum that only comes in two shades.
Director-producer-writer-star Lane Janger exhibits a passionate faith in his own dubious studliness in the belabored sitcom Just One Time, an arthritic exercise in self-pleasurement that finds his East Village fireman, Anthony, itching for a three-way with his fiancée and a second woman. Anthony panics, though, when she turns the tables and another guy gets involved in the miserable couple’s fits of passive aggression. Janger has no idea where a camera should be placed or how human beings interact (most folks wouldn’t spend five seconds with the insufferable Anthony, much less a lifetime or a single sticky evening), and his reactionary ideas about sex and desire are frightfully clueless; the courage of his convictions rests upon his own stripped-down bod, showcased in shot after adoring shot—a mirror-snogging John Ritter for a new generation.
Generational tags don’t apply for the Lower Eastside Girls Club’s presentation of their first Girls Film Festival—the posters invite “all girls ages 8 to 88 and their friends.” For the most part, the selections have good intentions and little else going for them, but Ruth Sergel’s short, Cusp, is a richly hued, psychologically astute portrait of tween tribulations, and Jim McKay’s Our Song, which tackles urban poverty and teen pregnancy in portraying three best friends growing up in Crown Heights, was warmly received at the last “New Directors/New Films” showcase.