Reviews — Sept. 20

I know some viewers will regard “4:44: Last Day on Earth” as a tedious package of self-absorbed, politically “biased” hokum, but here’s where I’m coming from: In 1979, director Abel Ferrara made a cheap “Taxi Driver” knock-off called “Driller Killer,” which is synonymous with 1970s exploitation shlock. Fast forward to 2012: He makes this curious film, which is about exactly what the title says it’s about, and it’s actually a life-affirming movie positing that human beings are, at the end of the day (literally), basically decent creatures.

That’s how I come to the film, anyway. And I like Willem Dafoe, who stars here as a New York actor who hunkers down with his artist girlfriend in her apartment loft as the clock ticks down to the moment the ozone runs out, ensuring that everything will be burned to a crisp at precisely 4:44 a.m. There is sex, followed by goodbyes, fights, reconciliations and, in a particularly moving scene, take-out. It is New York, after all.

The city really doesn’t sleep.

This little tone poem of a movie split critics right down the middle, but I’m comfortably in the thumbs up camp. It’s not as depressing as it sounds. Actually, if you consider the full range of end-of-the-world movies, this is the most authentic and emotionally intimate I’ve seen, one that has the good sense to end with a whimper instead of a bang.

“4:44: Last Day on Earth” (2012) Directed by Abel Ferrara. Starring Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh. Rated R for strong sexuality, some nudity, and language. 84 minutes.

David Bates


Unless you’ve skipped out on your bail, you’ll love Stephanie Plum, the endearing bounty hunter who stars in Janet Evanovich’s rollicking series of novels.

In “Lean, Mean Thirteen” (which is not exactly the 13th Plum novel; she also appears in other books), Stephanie is up to her usual activities: chasing people who’ve skipped out on her cousin’s bail bonding business; ferrying her feisty grandmother to the funeral home for viewings; setting buildings on fire; wrecking cars; and spending time with the four guys in her life, Rex the hamster, Bob the dog; and rival love interests Morelli and Ranger.

There’s a whole lot of Ranger in this edition, by the way, and that’s all to the good.

“Thirteen” takes place during a New Jersey winter, all snow and slush. Too bad that Stephanie’s after a thief who specializes in grave robbing — she’s facing a long, cold wait in the cemetery if she wants to bring him in.

But bring him in she must — she’s down to a few dollars in her pocketbook, barely enough to keep Rex in crackers. And who knows when she’ll have to spring for a new ride; she just bought a recycled police car, but vehicles never last long in her hands.

She also has a favor to do for Ranger: Plant a bug on her ex-husband, attorney Dickie Orr, to whom she was married “for about 15 minutes” until she discovered he was a serial cheater.

Problem is, Stephanie can’t see Dickie without seeing red. As she plants the bug, she also threatens his life in front of numerous witnesses. When Dickie disappears, leaving a trail of blood on the floor of his house, police suspect he’s been killed — by Stephanie.

The plot is deliciously convoluted, and all the usual characters are vividly present — ex-hooker Lula, Stephanie’s friend and coworker; Grandma and the rest of her Italian/Hungarian family, always ready with food and guilt; some of New Jersey’s most colorful crooks, from the grave robber to a drug kingpin; and Ranger’s collection of security specialists, their bulging muscles covered with black T-shirts.

And did I mention that a few things catch fire and blow up?

“Lean, Mean Thirteen: A Stephanie Plum Novel,” by Janet Evanovich, 2007, St. Martin’s Paperbacks.

Starla Pointer

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