Well, this was a helluva a lot of fun. Sergio Martino's Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key' is a great giallo cause it works on two levels-being an artistically interesting and complex cerebral film while not negating a nice slice of good wholesome sleaze. As well directed and shot this film was, maybe the most surprising aspect to me is that acting is really the highlight of the entire film. Luigi Pistilli, as the abusive, alcoholic writer and Anita Strindberg as his wife, truly stand out in this film and give great performances that features a nice blend of straight up craziness and subtlety - a pretty rare thing in these giallos. Through most of the film there is this, not sure how to say it, fractured perspective, where the viewer isnt entirely sure what is going on and what could possibly happen next. This approach really aids in creating a nice sense of uncertainty which envelopes the entire film. About two thirds of the way into the film, there is a narrative shift which completely works, making for a great finale. The trademark extreme angle cinematography, frantic editing, etc. all just add to this sequence creating a really effective unstable atmosphere. I still think The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh as far as Martino's best film ive seen, but Vice certainly a great Giallo in its own right.
Simon Rumley's Red, White and Blue is a visceral experience that is both resonant and original. This is Simon Rumley's follow-up to 'The Living and The Dead' and as much as I like that film, this film is even better mostly because of its richer dramatic elements. The main protagonist of the film is Erica, a young woman, who is pretty much a vagabond who happens to be a complete nymphomaniac. Erica is the type of person who spends more nights together with various men than she does alone. Erica is the type of person that keeps herself closed off to the rest of the world, that is until she meets Nate, a kind yet mysterious veteran who becomes her friend. Nate isn't just another man who wants to have sex with Erica, and because of this their bond grows as Erica finds something she rarely has with any man, friendship and companionship. The film takes a very interesting twist when the other main character, Franki, begins to look for Erica about half way through the movie. I can't really go into any detail because its a film that defies descriptors and must truly be experienced. The film is very well crafted and messes with tone a bit, shifting focus at times between the three main characters who are all connected, with Rumley spending plenty of time focused on exploring these characters psyches. Much like his previous film 'The Living and the Dead' this film just can't be pigeon-held into one specific genre - It's violent, touching, intense and disturbing at times. As I stated the film is very visceral and the camera work and sound design really do a great job at creating the tone. Rumley's Red, White and Blue is an intense experience that captures the not only Rumley's abilities as a director but as a storyteller in crafting this unique and somewhat controversial story.
Cesar works as a concierge for a Barcelona apartment building where he spends his time taking care of the residents in anyway possible. On the surface Cesar seems like a kind man who only wishes for the best of his residents but in all actuality he wishes to inflict as much pain as possible in the residents. Jaume Balaguero's Sleep Tight is a horror thriller that truly taps into a primal level of terror - the idea of being at danger while asleep in your bed, the one place where everyone is their most vulnerable. Cesar is a man who is so miserable in his own life that he wants to inflict as much pain as possible on the residents of the building with their sorrow being the only thing which makes him truly happy. He is a man who believes he was born with the inability to be happy so he wishes to inflict his pain on everyone around him. Cesar is a character which the director seems fascinated with to the point that the entire story is told from this Antagonist's point of view. Sleep Tight is a film that firmly believes that less is more, relying on very little gore or violence to achieve its horror. It all works so well because of the slow building tension of the story, much like the madness of Cesar himself, which gets more and more terrifying and frightening as the film goes on with Cesar's methods becoming more and more extreme in an attempt to make his residents, particularly a beautiful upbeat woman, Clara, sad. In a way the film is a portrait of obsession, showing how Cesar becomes more and more desperate to inflict sorrow to this character of Clara. He wishes to bring her sorrow yet is obsessed with her, spending almost every night with her in bed (after drugging her), almost as if he is in love with her even though he lacks the understanding of the concept. At times Sleep Tight teeters on the edge of preposterous, and while there is a rather unnecessary subplot involving a little girl, Sleep Tight is an effective, creepy experience and certainty one of the best horror films of the year.
Steve McQueen brings his stone cold gaze to the world of poker in The Cincinnati Kid, a strong little film that essentially does for Poker what 'The Hustler' did for pool. This is a well shot film, particularly during the climax , that uses some great shot selections and lighting to really enhance the tension towards the climatic final scene. Edward G. Robinson co-stars as 'The Man', known as the best poker player who McQueen's character has his eyes set on dethroning. Robinson is pretty much perfect at playing this character whose old, quiet and calculating demeanor are what makes him so intimidating. The core strength of the film for me revolved around The Cincinnati Kid's mindset and how such a strong-willed man, who rarely shows any emotion, can be shattered because of too much pride. The film also uses the relationships he keeps with woman as a way of displaying this inner turmoil. He clearly cares a lot about Christian, his girlfriend, but has trouble expressing it and really showing any affection in general. Two random character notes: Ann-Margret is pretty much a bombshell in this movie as Melba, a gold-digger whose eyes are focused on making the Kid her own. Also, what the fuck happened to Rip Torn? Let's just say he didn't particularly age gracefully
Johnnie To's Life Without Principle is a complex film that intertwines three narrative stories revolving around a police officer, two criminals and a bank employee. Cheung Jin-Fong is a police detective whose wife is dead set on investing in a new condominium, even though he's not so sure about the investment. Teresa, a bank employee, is feeling the pressure from her boss to boost her sales of investment products, spending most of her day attempting to sell high risk financial portfolios to her clients. Then there is Panther and Lung, two common criminals who lose a large sum of money in a loan sharking scheme, whom must find the money or face the wrath of the triad. Through Life Without Principle these three unique stories interact in different and sometimes unexpected ways using the backdrop of the economic crisis in Greece, which threatens to lead to a similar crisis in Hong Kong. This is a film that beautifully captures the growing complexities of the world economy which links all people together. Modern technology has created even larger stakes, with the ability to a create a ripple effect that is shown through all walks of life. From the very beginning of Life without Principle money is presented as this force which drives almost every character and decision. The film has a rather cynical viewpoint arguing that police officers, gangsters, or standard everyday citizens are all the same, controlled by their greed for money. While there is no denying that To's film is well thought out and an interesting examination on how everyone is linked together through money and technology, the film never feels all that compelling. The narrative threads all serve a purpose but the large cast of characters never are given enough time on screen to get the viewer truly invested in their various plights. While Life Without Principle didn't affect me much on an emotional level its hard to deny the strength of the social commentary.
What a bizarre, endlessly fascinating slice of Americana this film is. Jonathan Demme's "Handle With Care' or 'Citizens Band' is a portrait of a small town and how it's connected through CB radios which form this sense of human connection. It's a great ensemble piece with each character being interconnected through circumstance whether it is primarily through the radio, physically or both. While the film is a nice piece of history a lot of themes ring incredibly true today in the age of the internet and social media. Technology creates this type of secrecy or wall for us, almost like a fantasy world where we can be someone completely different or unique than who we truly are. The character of Spider and his quest to regulate the airwaves was particularly amusing as was his alcoholic father, a complete asshole in life, but a kind, nice man while operating his CB radio. Citizens Band works so well for its ability to both be highly entertaining, comedic, dramatic and intellectual. Jonathan Demme has crafted a fascinating, well written film with lots of unique and interesting characters that is just fun and socially relevant as well. In the end it is pretty surprising that this film isnt mentioned more when talking about Demme's filmography.
Helene is a 22-year-old girl who lives with her very peculiar mother. The identity of her father has always been kept secret from her and Helene is desperate to find her him. Her search leads her to a local theatre to investigate the director, who she believes may be her father. While there the director offers her mother's dog an important part in his production but soon after the dog suffers a mysterious demise, leading Helene to be cast in the role. Henrik Ruben Genz' Excuse Me is a unique, strange, and ultimately satisfying dark comedy that is really a brilliant example of how tone can dictate feeling and mood. This is a film in which many rather dark things happen from the main protagonist being raped to her mother being diagnosed with cancer, yet the tone is light and peculiar which makes these sequences more light-hearted and comedic than one could every imagine. The other aspect which helps this black comedy stand out is its characters. The cast and crew of this theater production are full of oddball characters from the self-absorbed lead actress, to the writer who can't come up with an ending, each character is truly strange which provide a lot of entertainment. Our main protagonist of Helene is such a mysterious character, with the film never completely tipping its hat as to what is going on in her head. The viewer is stringed along never really sure if this girl is a sociopath or just an odd girl whose naivety and timidness make her come off as strange. Excuse me does lack a little clarity in the end as to what exactly is true among Helene, her mother, the director, etc. but this could be an intentional decision by Henrik Ruben Genz and there is no denying his craft in creating this odd but fun pitch-black comedy.
FBI agent Johnny Utah, a former college football star, is transferred to the Los Angeles department. A group of bank robbers known as the "Ex Presidents" because they wear rubber masks resembling former presidents, have been hitting banks all over Los Angeles, leaving the FBI stumped. This forces Johny Utah undercover as he attempts to infiltrate a group of Southern California surfers whom are expected to be the men responsible for the series of bank heists. Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break is a film soaked in early 90s/late 80s sentiment, touching on the rising counter culture of the time period through this beach bum type culture. Bodhi, the head of the ex-presidents, is really what makes Point Break such a fun genre piece. He isn't a "bad guy" per se, ultimately representing the anti-establishment culture in that he merely wants to live life free of life's everyday struggles which he sees as weights holding him down. Point Blank is certainly a product of the times, features lots of stereotypical beach bum characters, and a somewhat cheesy soundtrack that certainly makes the film feel dated. Bigelow direction is surely the other highlight of the film, injecting Point Break with enough imagery and tension which combined with the counterculture thematic undercurrent makes Point Break the equivalent of Idiot Savant filmmaking. I hadn't seen Point Break in years and while it certainly feels a bit dated, there is no denying how unique the film was for the time.
History is Made At Night starts off in a very similar fashion to lots of romantic comedies, but quickly transforms itself into a more dramatic film which really affected me strongly on an emotional level. I was really impressed with just how well the film balances the dramatic and comedic elements throughout keeping a very concise, yet rather unique tone to it all. When it's comedic, it's charming and fun (the hand puppet sequence, the comedic moments involving the chef, etc) but when we are shown the more dramatic elements involving Irene being caught in-between the man she loves and her mean-spirited husband who would rather kill her than have her leave him, it's all very resonant. In the hands of a less skilled story teller the character of Bruce Vail, her husband, could have come off as too much of an abusive husband archetype, but the film ultimately shows that Vail was a man that truly loves his wife, just never quite knowing how to deal with losing her in a sane way. The last twenty minutes or so of this film are pretty much perfect. The way that Frank Borzage uses the ship's fog horn to create an impending sense of dread is really exceptional, as it's the one constant sound in the background during the scenes leading up to the accident. The sequence towards the very end between our doomed lovers (so, I assumed while watching) is so poetic and beautiful that even when the film kinda throws a random and unnecessary 180, It didn't even bother me at all.
Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert is a challenging film about one woman's emotional/spiritual desolation from the rest of the world. The film opens up in a grim, barren landscape of dark gray skies, fog and rain. We are introduced to Guiliana (Monica Vitti), a housewife, whose husband is the plant manager at the factory which fills the barren landscape. We learn that Guiliana is mentally ill, presumably following an accident, but she seems to want to keep this from her husband. There seems to be some hinting at the fact that her husband isn’t around enough to take care of her and her son's emotional needs. She presumably keeps this illness to herself and begins to form an emotional bond with Zeller, one of her husband’s co-workers at the plant. As the film progresses, we follow Guilian's character as she falls farther and farther into this emotional isolation and eventually comes to the point of near mental breakdown. This is definitely Antonioni's most experimental work to date. He uses everything from the barren polluted landscapes of the factory, to the abandoned fishing cottages, to the behemoth docked ships of the sea to really create this desolate feeling in which Guiliana is experiencing. As to be expected by Antonioni, his calculated framing is prevalent as well, aiding in creating Guiliana's mood. Monica Vitti may give her most compelling performance in this film as a disaffected woman who really seems to just be lost in this bleak world. She is incredibly neurotic and it’s downright frightening to watch her character almost transcend into madness. I really think Antonioni understood the female form amazingly well, and it’s such an interesting performance and character arch to watch this character go through this journey. While Red Desert doesn't quite hold up to L'Eclisse, which is Antonioni's best film in my humble opinion; this is quite a fascinating film about emotional isolation and the effects it can cause. Antonioni's aesthetic choices are fascinating such as the shallow depth of field and color palette that both help to create this mood even more.
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