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Moriarty’s DVD Shelf! APARTMENT ZERO Review

This one’s been a long time coming. That’s what happened to a lot of films from the ‘80s that were financed by 37 different tiny companies. Skouras Pictures was the theatrical distributor in the US, but the film was financed by PRO, a British company. Over the years, the film has bounced from one video label to another. I saw the film as an imported Japanese laserdisc once, curious to see the original 124 minute theatrical version. The movie was cut for home video by Martin Donovan, the film’s director and co-writer. This isn’t the guy from WEEDS and the Hal Hartley films, though. Different Martin Donovan. This guy is from Argentina. He was a TV writer in the ‘70s on stuff like CHICO & THE MAN and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and then he seemed to reinvent himself when he hooked up with a young writer named David Koepp. They wrote APARTMENT ZERO together, and then later they also wrote DEATH BECOMES HER, the Robert Zemeckis jetblack slapstick comedy. For many years, the only version of this film available has been the cut version, but Anchor Bay’s Feb. 20th release of the film will correct that and finally offer a worthwhile version for people to rediscover. The film takes place in Buenos Aires, where Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth) runs a small reparatory theater. He’s an already-crumbling cookie when we meet him. Firth’s incredibly young here, and he’s a bizarre bundle of exposed nerve endings. When his mother goes insane, he has to put her away, and the combination of those expenses and the slow-motion failure of his theater means that LeDuc finds himself in financial straits. He has to rent his mother’s room out to someone, a prospect that terrifies him. He knows he’s not fit to live with a stranger. And then Hart Bochner walks in and the chemistry between him and Firth is so electric and disturbing from the very first moment that it seems inevitable that LeDuc will invite Jack Carney (Bochner) to stay. What could be a one-note film about a twisted man’s romantic obsession becomes much more complicated when LeDuc starts to realize that things don’t add up about his surface-perfect new tenant. As their relationship develops against the backdrop of a series of murders in Buenos Aires, the film manages to be wicked fun and terribly sad in equal measure, and it's the sort of thriller that lingers because of just how pervasively and peversely creepy it all is. The film moves at its own pace, but it’s always rich with characterization and eccentric detail, and Donovan’s use of Buenos Aires is hypnotic. The film’s got a great score by Elia Cmiral (RONIN, WRONG TURN), and even though it’s got some of the unmistakable visual signatures of the ‘80s, the film doesn’t feel dated. It just adds to the particular surreal flavor of the piece. The disc comes with two commentaries. One is by Martin Donovan, and the other is by David Koepp with a “special guest star.” I haven’t played the two commentaries yet, but I hear it’s Steven Soderbergh who shows up with Koepp for some reason. I’m just pleased that some effort was put into finally getting this one back into the marketplace so people can discover it or see it again. Now I want to see if someone will put out MAD AT THE MOON, Donovan’s follow-up film which isn’t currently available in any format in the US. Maybe it’s about time someone pay this obviously talented filmmaker a little due respect, and that David Koepp’s detractors be reminded of just where he began. This is definitely a film I’m adding to my permanent collection, and one I’d recommend to anyone in the mood for a strange but satisfying thriller that recalls early Polanski or even Lynch. Good stuff. Don't forget to drop by the DVD Blog for live updates and general DVD conversation all day.

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

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