The Burnt Orange Heresy
A movie boasting a title like The Burnt Orange Heresy seems to be begging for viewer sophistication, but this somewhat engaging, low-key thriller practically dares you to treat it as serious art, in a couple of different ways. For one thing, its protagonist, James Figueras (Claes Bang), is himself an art critic, and the movie opens with a lengthy lecture during which he shows his audience an apparently unremarkable abstract painting and then proceeds to wow them with the numerous symbolic and heavily autobiographical details buried within, before finally revealing that he made all of them up. The very notion of art’s abiding mysteries gets dismissed as utter pretension — not just overtly, in dialogue, but by a subsequent shift in focus to the crazy tall and good-looking Figueras’ first encounter with the crazy tall and good-looking tourist Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), who accurately accuses him of having piled BS on top of BS. It’s the sort of barbed filtration of which magnificently superficial entertainment can possibly be made, and the two immediately wind up naked and horizontal.
As brief as their fixation feels, James has to head out for a unusual assignment, and actually persuades Berenice to accompany him. The film’s main narrative concerns the desire of an obscenely wealthy collector, Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger), to secure a painting from notoriously reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), who’s staying in a guest house on Cassidy’s enormous Lake Como estate. Debney has reportedly been at work for decades without allowing anyone else to see the results; all of his known paintings were lost in a fire long ago, and Cassidy desperately wants a new one — so much so, in fact, that he’s provided the man with a studio on his own property and now offers James the opportunity for a potential career-boosting exclusive interview with Debney… in exchange for, well, just a pinch of theft. Fortunately, Berenice is on hand to serve as a distraction, though she, too, may be keeping some secrets.
Adapted from a 1971 novel of the same title by Charles Willeford, The Burnt Orange Heresy — titled after one of Debney’s mysterious paintings — as an adaptation, doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. The novel was designed both with some satire, but, more importantly, as something more conceptual. Scott B. Smith’s script blends simplified art theory with more general suave quippery, before shifting the tone towards a darker, nastier turn. This more straightforward helming of the material can feel a bit off, even with its rushed tight and quick turn. Indeed, at ninety-eight minutes, The Burnt Orange Heresy feels like a rare film that could stand to be a little more indulgent, taking Giuseppe Capotondi’s surfacey direction towards something that teases out its bluffing narrative with more of a wink, further drinking in the louche allure of its milieu and letting its two delicious stars enjoy each other’s company a bit longer before the fix is in. But then again, as the film ultimately feels a little shallow and flimsy, it’s not as if we weren’t warned right up front. While starting with laidback, stylish charms, The Burnt Orange Heresy, sadly, slowly loses itself in its genre-shift, taking its climactic pileup to rushed and unsurprising grounds.
The Burnt Orange Heresy is available on VOD
Class Action Park
For New Jersey youth in the ’70s and ’80s, visiting (and surviving) Action Park was a rite of passage. The sprawling combination of water park, motor park, and general drunken debauchery was the brainchild of Gene Mulvihill, a disgraced former penny-stock pusher who counted the cash as his park became a rule-free stew of dangerous rides, teens guests, teen employees, raging hormones, and ’80s-style machismo. The documentary Class Action Park attempts a tricky balancing act, reveling in the hedonism of the attraction while treating the consequence of that hedonism with appropriate gravitas. The directors Chris Charles Scott and Seth Porges sneak the viewer behind the curtain by deploying some wry narration by John Hodgman, giddily kitschy archival materials and interviews with park employees, celebrity patrons, and journalists. Scott and Porges spend a fair amount of their runtime on detailed walk-throughs of the rides and their various corresponding dangers and injuries — as well as the shamelessly shady business practices of its owner.
But the the grimness does begin to creep in, around the hour mark, as cheerful injuries and “battle scars” give way to horrifying stories of electrocution and drowning, as well as details behind the park’s first death, complete with wrenching testimonials by his surviving family. Shockingly, there were multiple more deaths over the next seven years, and its when Class Action Park dives into the grimness that it loses its footing somewhat, as Scott and Porges don’t seem to know quite how to wrap things up, and the film’s big tonal shift is a turning point that is all but impossible to come back from. And while that shift is necessary, it’s that control of it in which things get caught up. It might have some tonal struggles in its latter half, but Class Action Park still steadily brings enough dark, bizzaro, reflective humor to help make its nostalgia more intriguing than just surface-level pleasures.
Class Action Park is available to stream on HBO Max