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Permanent Midnight, Under the Skin

By Ray Pride

SEPTEMBER 21, 1998: 

Permanent Midnight

Directed by Dave Veloz. Ben Stiller stews as Hollywood sitcom artist and heroin enthusiast Jerry Stahl in "Permanent Midnight," based on Stahl's memoir of the same name. His aggrieved, self-loathing embodiment rises to the jangling prose of the book, while overall, the sturdy work by first-time director Dave Veloz–one of the writers of Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers"–remains on the level of anecdote. The terse, eighty-five minute film is punched through with provocative images and side notes, but seldom rises to the scene of Stahl shooting heroin into his neck in his car while his squalling child rests in the baby carrier on the passenger seat beside him. Rather than seek some kind of atonement for the critical evisceration of his directing talents in "Cable Guy," Stiller has spent the past year acting in roles that strip him of any vanity, and this may be the refiner's fire that finally gets him back behind the camera. There is one moment where Veloz finds a visual correlative for drug euphoria that blasts out of the film's episodic rut: upon first tasting crack with a dealer, played by former user Peter Green, in an unfinished high-rise office suite, the pair take their hits and bound against the floor-to-ceiling Plexiglas windows, bouncing off the horizon. A few repetitions, then Veloz cuts to a helicopter shot swirling past the skyline, the mountains in the distance, the expanse of glass with two insectoid figures sprinting, spurting against the glass and falling, sprinting, spurting, falling. (Ray Pride)

Under the Skin

Carine Adler's powerful first feature, filled with delirium and orgasms that do not offer release, can break the heart in several ways: its agile, inquisitive style brims with grit and color, and all for one effect: to capture Samantha Morton's emotionally naked performance as Iris, a Liverpool woman who mourns the sudden death of her mother (Rita Tushingham, anguished in a brief part) through bursts of promiscuous self-destruction. Iris seeks out men, bad men, angry men, with fury, punching affection full in the face, fucking so that words are unnecessary. Self is unnecessary. Morton is young and her acting so unguarded. What can replace the love of Iris' mother? The love she still does not understand? Despair. Humiliation. Bold, angry acts of anger, tempting danger with every glance. Most affectingly, Adler offers Iris a way out of her miseries that does not seem phony or out of place, a way away from peril that is psychologically plausible yet also heartening. Iris has a future; the sick, sad child can become an adult who understands her needs instead of always trying in vain to bat them away. 85m. (Ray Pride)

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