“Armed Response”Director, Bob Rafelson; writer, Fredric Rafael, based on his story “Merce”; camera, Miroslaw Baszak; editor, Lorenzo Massa; production design, Valanne Ridgeway; sound, Doug Johnson; music, Hummie Mann. Filmed in Los Angeles, Toronto and Anjou, France, by Yorktown Prods. in association with Skyvision Partners. Executive producers, Norman Jewison, Gayle Fraser-Baigelman, Howard Rosen; producers, Scott JT Frank, Dan Halperin, David Wesley Wachs; supervising producer, Jeff Freilich; series creators, Frank, Halperin, Wachs. “Lightning” Director, Joe Dante; writer, JimByrnes, based on a short story by Zane Grey; “Two Nudes Bathing” Director-writer-producer, John Boorman; camera, Seamus Deasy; editor, Ron Davis; art director, Derek Wallace; sound, Brendan Deasy; music, Jocelyn West. 2 1/2 HOURS. Casts:”Lightning”: Brian Keith, Kathleen Quinlan, Ron Perlman, Henry Jones; “Armed Response”: Robert Loggia, James Calvert, Steve Zahn, Cyndy Preston, Cliff Saunder, Maria Macratsis, Laura Press; “Two Nudes Bathing”: John Hurt, Charley Boorman, Juliette Caton, Angeline Ball, Britta Smith, Jocelyn West. Big-name helmers craft small-screen jewels for Showtime’s “Picture Windows” short-film series. Literary/arty pretensions of theme — each pic is inspired by a work of art or classic literature — gives the series a rather higher-brow feel, which thankfully, doesn’t spell filmmaker self-indulgence. First trilogy showcases Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Kaplan and Norman Jewison (one of the series’ exec producers); second trilogy features pics from Joe Dante, Bob Rafelson and John Boorman; all are worthy and worth a good look. Based on a Zane Grey story and visually inspired by the works of Frederick Remington, “Lightning”– Dante’s offering — toplines Brian Keith as an ornery gold prospector who strikes it rich. His life is saved by Lightning, a recently purchased mule who seems to possess preternatural intelligence — at least for a mule. Ron Perlman and Kathleen Quinlan are a gambler and whore, respectively, who plot to take his gold. Story trades on an O. Henry type of irony with a twisted, satisfying conclusion. Dante directs this amusing, wry shortie with a sure hand. Keith, Perlman and Quinlan are relaxed and production values are tops. Rafelson’s entry, “Armed Response,” takes off from the David Hockney painting “Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures),” with all the post-modern chilliness that painting embodies. Fabulously wealthy lawyer Robert Loggia, through the course of some disturbing events over which he feels he has control, discovers that surfaces are misleading and that digging deeper reveals a lurid, sordid underbelly to his “perfect” family. In the end, Loggia is painted into a corner by his kids — closing shot drives the point home. Visually, Rafelson keeps “Armed Response” looking like a cinematic Hockney, bolstering pic’s theme. Boorman’s “Two Nudes Bathing” debuted in Cannes in Un Certain Regard, and was well-received at the French fest. The strongest of the trio, “Two Nudes Bathing” is Boorman’s witty musing on how that famous anonymous painting from the 16th century, which hangs in the Louvre, came to be. Gorgeously filmed by Seamus Deasy on location in a French chateau, “Bathing” assumes a sweet fairytale quality with helmer’s son Charley Boorman portraying the “anonymous” painter Henri, commissioned to paint the two daughters of a tyrannical nobleman. Henri educates the girls about love and finds love himself with the saucy maid. Compelling story, written by the director, ends with a very satisfying conclusion. The beautiful Juliette Caton and Angeline Ball give the sisters a wonderful aching curiosity about love and sex; rest of cast, including John Hurt as the comte, are top-notch, as are tech credits. Showtime has a great little series here; in the future, it would be nice to see how Quentin Tarantino tackles a ferocious Delacroix, or Allison Anders’ take on Frida Kahlo — the possibilities are exciting. Fab 4 spice drab ‘Now’
Showtime, Sun. Oct. 29, 8 p.m.