Thursday, October 7, 2010


Oh Dario Argento, that pip.  He's been working at making the kinds of films he makes for forty years.  Like Brian De Palma, he doesn't necessarily always make his particular 'Argento' movie, but they're the ones he likes to make most: thrillers and horror, or the more inclusive if not altogether true term, "Giallo'.  Some of them may blend together, but they do vary depending on how much of an erection Dario has for his killing sequences, how much Goblin music pans into it, and perhaps color (Suspiria) or acting ability (Deep Red, The Black Cat).  Here are two films from his oeuvre that vary, by nature of it being almost forty years of difference, in quality:

This is the story of a guy who just wants to be a drummer in a rock and roll band, and is (and is pretty darn good, for a sessions player in a band without a singer).  At one of the sessions he sees a mysterious figure watching.  Who could it be?  He follows this figure to a place, and he accosts a man who looks as confused as Roberto the drummer (Michael Brandon) looks pissed off.  The other guy pulls out a knife, Roberto tries to pull it away but by accident it goes right into the guy's gullet.  And from in the very same vacant auditorium there is another person there in a bizarre baby-doll mask or something, that takes a picture and runs off.  Roberto can't just go to the cops, mind you, as he could get fifteen years even on an accident.  And now the witness isn't even blackmailing - he/she/it is toying with Roberto, trying to make him go crazy, and in the process bumping off anyone close to him.

Sure, Argento has done the mystery killer, many, many times.  So much so that if you come to 4 Flies on Grey Velvet after seeing several of his major works - which is preferred, seeing it as your first Argento one could find it so bizarre with its mixture of wild humor, surrealism and dead-faced suspense sequences - it should come as familiar as seeing an old friend.  The change-up here is that instead of it being the guy or girl who is witness to a murder and the cops are involved a little but he/she will crack the case (i.e. Deep Red, Opera, so on), this time the guy is the killer, but by accident, and there's another one who takes the main stage.  There's also some very distinct psycho-ness going on as we see from the same sort of first person point of view perspective of the killer the sight of the padded walls of a mental asylum room, spinning around like the camera is going crazy itself.

In the meantime as Roberto tries with little success to find who this killer-blackmailer-psycho is, he hires  a private detective and his two sort-of friends (one guy with a big beard the other with a moustache, both peculiar chaps) do their part to do what they can.  That's another thing that should be noted here with these supporting characters: the distinguishing factor is the comedy.  Some of this is of the eccentric nature, as Argento is a Hitchcock fan (it's even the title of one of his fucking movies for Godfrey sakes. Godfrey the supporting character with the beard who is also called 'God', hence the pun), and it is, actually, very funny.  There's the mistaken physical struggle with a man Roberto sees who is just the postman, and this happens in the rain and with a little suspense so it's a good pay-off.  There's the private detective who is so flaming gay that he has to mention it repeatedly, though this is only funny at first (he finally has to be toned down for the sake of the plot).  And there's even a scene where Roberto and Godfrey are at some function where it's like a mortician's convention- a double-casket for convenience sake, and one of those stand-up tombs that a dealer tries to sell to a customer.

Some of this is so bizarre that it could, in more hackneyed hands, derail the rest of the movie.  The only faults with Argento here in constructing this film are a few moments, like right after one particular death scene, that cuts too quickly to the next shot.  These small pacing issues don't take away from Argento's real strength here, which is to get a juicy kick out of the pulpy nature of the Giallo he's working in, and to keep the audience really guessing, which is hard to do.  At one point he almost goes too far with misdirection with a key piece of voice-over that a character has, and for a full moment we think this character is the killer... and then it gets dark, and the Argento's smooth camera pan lets us know things are not alright.  The revelation in the climax might not be the most unexpected, but the way it is revealed, and how the killer does the exposition and the demise is absolutely astonishing in its dramatic conviction and the stylistic overture of operatic proportions.  Argento being operatic?  You don't say...

4 Flies on Grey Velvet is one of the director's most entertaining features.  It's not altogether perfect, and may not carry the same visual gloss and astonishment of Suspiria, but on its own terms its a really solid thriller that takes rock and roll of the period into some good use, not to mention an Ennio Morrcione score that is so chilling you'll curl up in your chair from that more than the roving camera and moments of still terror.  Oh, and it's surreal, did I mention that?  The re-occurring dream here carries a power with each repetition, all based on a minor character describing a story that sticks with Roberto.  It will stick with me too, if not in dreams then my movie-laden subconscious.


There may be SPOILERS

According to the trivia for Dario Argento's 2009 film Giallo (or "Yellow" as it's actual translation is, based on the style of paper used for original Giallo-print stories), this was the first film that wasn't written originally by Dario Argento.  Funny then (though not really funny) that at the end of the film the first credit to pop up is "Written and Directed by Dario Argento", when he he only worked in some part on the screenplay after it was presented to him by the writers (who are, weirdly enough, also credited as "Written by").  I never thought I would think that the credit Quentin Tarantino gave himself at the end of Pulp Fiction as "Written & Directed by" when the 'Stories by' indicated Roger Avary as really his co-writer was diminished by comparison to something else.  And, frankly, I really wonder why Argento was so happy to have both credits here.

Sure, he was (and maybe still is) one of the major artists, maybe the most worldwide recognized and renown for creating his own style in these Italian films, but it's really just not the same anymore as it used to be.  Argento's changed, the film world has changed, killing's changed a bit too, and sadly not for the better.  The story here, as thin as it is, could be at least somewhat promising, about a fashion model who is one of many girls abducted by a mysterious figure (well, not so mysterious, will get to that in a moment).  This man is "Yellow", for his skin, albeit he is slim competition as Yellowest Bastard (Nick Stahl in Sin City beats him by a mile, but I digress again).  Her sister (Emmanuelle Siegner) is all she has in the world, or visa-versa, and so she visits the detective Enzo (Adrien Brody) who is the kind of brooding detective that works out of the basement of the police station and works by "his own rules."  And so the investigation goes.


Where to start with this?  This is such a mess of a movie that is most saddening because of the name Argento as the director.  To be sure, his reputation has fallen over time in his later films; while unseen by me, films like Trauma, The Card Player and the remake of Phantom of the Opera carry some awful buzz by even his die-hard fans.  I wanted to keep some hope, or some benefit of the doubt, as I was among the handful that really enjoyed his third entry in the Three-Mothers saga, Mother of Tears, which was his previous effort.  But, quite simply I ask, where is any passion or a sense of creativity here?  I don't have to be perverse in putting this forward with this director: where is even the joy in the stalking-killing scenes?  Those kind of classic scenes don't have to be repeated again and again (he already did that in the 70's and 80's just fine).  At the same time there's nothing here to reveal anything in simply enjoyment of his own material.  It comes off like the work of a hack who is just going through the motions, with the occasional odd-ended visual flourish or strange editing beat.

The thing I held out for, after realizing about ten minutes in that this wouldn't be high-quality thriller-horror work, is that Adrien Brody was the star, and one of the biggest names in an Argento movie.  This is the most bizarre thing of all, and not always in a good way.  So, (spoiler), Brody plays two roles, both the detective and "Yellow" the killer.  I wish this could be something that I could leave out of this review, yet it's difficult to expound about how tasteless and crude and wonky a double-performance it is without mentioning it.  And, to be fair, Argento does very little to hide from the viewer that this is Brody, right from the get-go when Yellow drives his red-herring cab (no offense, it's the schnoz, it's plain as day even in a rearview mirror).  One might expect that Brody will at least have fun with this, like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde turn (or, better yet, like Edward Norton in Leaves of Grass).  There's the halfway-hopeful expectation that it's the same character, which would have held many possibilities and which I was rooting for in the first half of the film - this, to me, would have been the way to give the much-done Giallo-Italian-thriller a good twist.

But, alas, they're two characters, and oddly enough it's Enzo the detective that's more intriguing (the one really gripping and well-shot and surprisingly un-Argento death scene, ironically, comes in a flashback with his character as a kid getting revenge).  It does not help in the slightest that Siegner's performance, and by some extent her character, is hard to watch.  She looks bored by this movie, this character, what she's doing, and no wonder as it's the kind of whiny but stone-faced and dull character who has nothing else but this whole thing with her sister.  It's understandable to an extent, but she never makes herself useful, and at one point actively gets in the way of the investigation.  And despite her, and despite the weird but not weird enough turn by Brody as Yellow in the heavy make-up, I could forgive it if the filmmaking had some heart to it.  Yes, I know it's a thriller and it should follow the beats, but where's the kind of spirit and passion for taking the camera by the balls and going to the limit?

One could blame the tired writing if Argento's name was not so present at the end - but on the other hand, he was presented with this script and, apparently, tried to make it *better*.  How so is anyone's guess.  It's the work of a master who just doesn't give a shit, despite the appearances.  I'd much rather it was made by someone else.  As it stands it's one of the low-points of his entire career.


ADDENDUM: That same trivia states that originally the film was going to have Vincent Gallo as Yellow (and maybe the Detective? Ray Liotta was also approached for Enzo), but dropped out after his former girlfriend, Asia Argento, was cast in the female lead (no shit, in a Dario movie?), but then dropped out when she got pregnant.  As tired as having Asia in her father's films have become, despite always being a good actress, I can only imagine the possibilities of a better film with her, and especially with the already quirky and strange Gallo as a jaundiced serial killer.  One can only think what-ifs back on these things.

TALL TALES with Edward Norton #1: LEAVES OF GRASS

Why 'tall tales'?  Because I don't want to sell the actor short ;)

Leaves of Grass is that film that comes around, maybe only once or twice a year, that I really feel sorry for. Even if I didn't like the movie ultimately I would have pity for such a project that tried to do something just a little different.  Here is a film by the character actor and sometimes director Tim Blake Nelson, who you may have seen in O'Brother Where Art Thou (you'll know him when you hear him and maybe see him) or possibly behind the camera (the 2001 movie 'O' which is highly underrated).  It stars Edward Norton.  And also Edward Norton.  One of the Edward Norton's isn't quite like the other, even though they're identical twins, one of whom hides his Oklahoma accent.  See what they did there?

Why feel sorry for it if it got released?  The fact is it almost, kind of, didn't.  Its original release was scheduled in April or May of this year, and just as it was planned for a good-ol' opening at the Angelika and art-house theaters of the like (including a Q&A session with Nelson and Norton I was much anticipating), it was all pulled because of a "new" distributor that would give the film, reportedly, a much bigger push than it had before.  Fine, good for them, maybe it was really worth it after spending such an amount of time going around the festival circuit.  Now September comes around, the film gets released... in six theaters, and with little to not advertising about its release.  If I wasn't keyed into all of the movie theaters in downtown NYC, it would've passed me by.  To be sure the film will get a DVD release- sooner most definitely than later so that First-Look Studios who released it can start getting their money back- but the cryin' shame comes from that being what has to be done.

Is Leaves of Grass a mainstream movie?  Maybe not, but maybe in some weird way so.  It's like a low-key independent version of Pineapple Express to some degree.  The two Nortons, played by one ala Nicolas Cage in Adaptation., are the Kincaides, a brainy philosophy professor who is on the cusp of getting a job at Cambridge University, and a brainy pot dealer who has made his own revolutionary hydroponics system for growing his wacky-tobacco.  Bill, the professor, is lured down to the old homestead in Oklahoma as he heard his brother is, well, dead, shot by a crossbow.  This is just pretext for Bill to come down and for Brady to hatch his brilliant idea: Bill will go around as Brady (Brady gets a bad haircut and shaves his beard, hard to get rid of the accent like Bill did) as a kind of alibi as Brady has some shady drug deals with a big-shot Jewish guy (and we are told up-front, as part of the comedy, that he's Jewish played by Richard Dreyfuss).  Oh, and Bill could visit his mother too, it's been so long after all.

Is the film so amazing as to warrant me to rush out to all my close friends and family and drag them by the wrist into the little Village East Cinema playing the movie for who-knows-how-many-more-days?  Probably not.  It does suffer a little from a few points in the screenplay from Nelson that are a little too easy given how crazy the premise is.  It never goes into like Sweet Home Alabama territory or something (the fact that I can kind of remember that premise is scary enough, but I digress), but the addition of a female semi-love-interest in the adorable Keri Russell is one part of it, and another is how Nelson throws off the viewer by its tonal shift halfway through the movie.  It seemed to fit for me - again, Pineapple Express' nonchalant attitude to mixing hysterical laid-back comedy and brutal violence, here more brutal than DG Green was able to put up - but I could see people being turned off by it.  There's even a kind of poetic ironic twist near the end that had me both smile and gasp in shock at once, and it seemed to get in the way of an otherwise satisfying ending.

And yes, we do have the black-lights here.  Trippy.

What Nelson does get right is the relationship between these two brothers, and how the two of them survive in the worlds they're in.  There's some kind-of expected quirky humor with Bill as the professor who has the student that has the hots for him (and, most amusingly, writes very detailed Latin love letters with extra punctuations), and Brady as a cool but firm druggie with a wife and baby on the way.  Seeing Edward Norton in these two different roles is a delight, and really the first time I can get excited about him on screen in a while (that is until Stone comes out this month).  The surprise for me here is that Norton's Brady is so funny, at times even when he doesn't try to be, and I can't remember if Norton's ever gotten that kind of comedy out of himself before, which is a twangy near-but-not-over the top performance.  In moments and scenes where the script lags Brady carries along some of the comedic weight.  And his Bill is a good character as well and has his moments of freaking out and insanity.

Probably most surprising, though under-used, is Dreyfuss as the big-time guy Pug Rothbaum (what a name).  He too is very funny, and not given nearly as much to work with as Norton.  But the little he does use is rather brilliant; it's not simply a walk-on, it's a fully-formed character and performance, for how brief it is.  Russell, again, brings some charm despite it being a conventional set-up and a couple of monkey-wrenching in Walt Whitman's poetry of the title.  And Susan Sarandon stops by for some scenes as a mother staying in an old-age home despite not being quite old enough yet for the place.

Oh, it is a quirky movie, and a few times it does seem like odd quirk instead of the funny quirk it's going for.  Yet Leaves of Grass ultimately is a good film, at times a really solid effort of dark comedy infused with real characters and uncomfortable, crazy situations that can spiral out of control.  It won't win any awards, but it deserves its day in court, at some time or another.  That it won't get much of one on the big screen is sad.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Matt Reeves' LET ME IN review on Film-Forward


also, my original review of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN on the same site.


As a film buff, there's always the search, nay the hunt, for new works to satisfy.  It never stops, and it's especially tough when one comes up against a director, long gone, whose body of work takes weeks, months, years to scarf all down, and even then there's the mysterious odd-obscure one that is hard to reach (such as Alejandro Jodorowsky's Tusk, which I have finally tracked down and will review in all of its bad-quality glory, but I digress).

One of these filmmakers if Lucio Fulci.  After seeing several of his films (i.e. The Beyond, House by the Cemetery, Zombi 2, Zombi 3, Don't Torture a Duckling), he falls into a category that I hold for the likes of Spike Lee, Brian De Palma and Jean-Luc Godard: there are a handful of pictures that are flat-out brilliant, if not masterpieces than near close, that show the directors at top form, then another handful of films that are good, solid works but flawed... and then those other handful that are just awful, hard to defend, the talent that the filmmaker has revealing them in their flaws to go even further than a hack would.  Fulci really is a high-caliber director, and despite first glance of some of his trashier works (New York Ripper comes to mind), he knows how to make effective, visceral thrillers that have a raw quality to them via low-budgets and varied casting.

Case in point - Lizard in a Woman's Skin

This tale, from 1971 (and it's hard not to tell the time period here), and it's about a woman, Carol (the coldly beautiful Florinda Bolkan), who is fairly well off, practically bourgeois, and the daughter of a lawyer/politician.  She's also having some very strange dreams.  She finds herself on a train, recurringly, stuck and unable to leave in a mass of people.  She also has some very hot sex dreams involving another woman who Carol knows, Julia (Anita Strindberg).  Julia is involved in lots of drug-and-sex orgies (again, it's 1971, probably shot in 70), and it's pretty crazy.  Not so crazy as what happens next, which is Carol being implicated as the primary suspect in Julia's grisly murder by stabbing.  Carol dreamed the killing, and there are her prints all over the place.  She claims she didn't kill her, but then who?  Who can Carol's father find and put the blame?  Will the police detectives come in and solve the crime, which could be a set-up, possibly by two zonked-out hippies?

This is what one would term 'Giallo', if only because it's a) by an Italian director of many Giallo, and b) it has the typical murder-mystery elements, and the moments of shocking horror.  Fulci's camera here isn't the likes of Argento, and it's not even the likes of Fulci's other Giallo movies such as the great Don't Torture a Duckling.  The camera style has a raw quality to it, and if it does have a particular style it's hard to see outside of the obvious - the psychedelic era it's coming from.  This is like an Italian knock-off of exploitation pictures AIP were putting out at the time involving crazy shit going on when people are surrounded by LSD and rampant sex and (ultimately) the violence that comes from taking that pesky acid.  And yet it's better than a lot of those movies because Fulci has a kind of underlying point with the time and place and the mood.

This is swinging England, after all, and it's more than conceivable that there's this split between the rich class and the less-well-off druggies and sex party animals, and that a criss-cross can happen.  But it's also hard to neglect Charles Manson style crimes when violence does occur.  Later in the film Carol is chased by a maniac with a knife that leads up to the roof.  I couldn't help but see Fulci's bitter satire of the entire hippie movement here as the hippies, being seen as the decadent and depraved lot, were not to easy to see as being heroes or villains, though at certain times we're meant to believe they're surely the latter.  That, or just downright creepy, as with the one hippie chick with pale almost zombie-blue skin who sometimes accosts Carol and later in the story hypes the virtues of LSD: "I can see so many things coming at me, hahaha!" (or dialog close to that).

The camera moves around such times in its rough style not due to its intended approach but due to budget.  It's easy to tell when this happens, that certain moments are cheap or, as due to the Giallo approach, procedural, conventional, expected.  It's when Fulci lets his surrealist-side go mad that things get interesting.  Carol in these dream scenes, either on the train or in sexual poses or doing whatever-it-is she may or may not be doing in reality, is kind of staggering to watch, especially as Bolkan as an actress makes Carol hard to peg.  She seems an innocent, but then Bolkan's cold stares and quiet or angry way she respond to questions or comments amps the mystery.  Other actors like the one playing her father or the head investigator do their part to make the film better than the average pulp.  But mostly it's Bolkan's show, by way of Fulci's dream-like staging.

It's certainly flawed in some respects, and just because of the problem of watching the film (aka Schizoid) dubbed.  One of the problems I had was a small one but one that wouldn't have been so bad if it had only been a once-or-twice occurrence, but it's often: the inspector, when he's on a crime scene or just asking some intriguing questions, whistles a tune.  Sometimes this tune carries over (or seems to carry over by Fulci's unintentional misdirection in the music), but it doesn't always work for the mood of a scene, and it becomes an annoying quirk.  Another sign of a pacing issue is music.  A good musical accompaniment, especially in Italian thrillers of the 1970's variety, is hard to hate, but it unnerves when put into small scenes that are unnecessary.  This is a minor bone to pick, but when it comes to the skeleton of what is otherwise an effective movie it stands out.

Lizard in a Woman's Skin challenges by the nature of its unusual (sub)genres: it's a psychedelic melodrama with fluorishes of the kind of violence that Fulci would go further to exploit in his horror films.  The female protagonist is given a real head-trip, and moments of real anxiety and fear and bewilderment, and we're put along for the ride.  This ride has its merits by its tricky pacing and a B-movie level of Bunuelian bourgeois consciousness-meddling.  And the twist at the end is a kicker, if a little over-explicated by the detective.  In Fulci's cannon it ranks high up there as an imperfect of-its-period gem.  It tickled me as a fan of psychedelic-inspired drug-sexy-kill frenzies that stay grounded in a good story. 

I hope soon, I should add, to have more Fulci reviews before year's end, as I have his entire oeuvre that I've yet to see on my Netflix queue at the top of the list.

PS: I just realized Ennio Morricone did the score to the film, as he did for so many other Italian thrillers and genre pictures at the time.  That might explain it, that 49 times out of 50 he's magnificent and that one time he just goes a little too far.  Still, it's not a bad score by any means, especially during the dream sequences.  It's just the over-abundance of music at times and the whistling that's annoying. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

a few favorite movie posters (part 1 - first 25)

After spending a little time making my own poster of sorts for the Moviehatch competition, I thought about some of my favorite movie posters. That and I came across this:

 I had never seen this poster before, and even enjoy it more than the US poster, which itself is pretty cool. 

So, what are some of my favorites, both classic, modern, obscure?  Here goes, in no particular order...





... part two will come at some point....

ADDENDUM: One of these posters, the Apocalypse Now poster, came from THIS website, full of amazing Polish posters.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My screenplay "The Men and the Damnation" is now on Moviehatch!

Hey everyone.  I need your help if you're reading this.

This is - this is a competition where the screenwriters get a chance to have their feature script see the light of day with producers and people who can get shit made.  There's are a bunch of entries in their contest section where people can vote on projects- some have "fake" trailers, and some only have posters.

My entry for my crime-drama script, The Men and the Damnation, is up on the site now, and if you have literally two seconds to spare, come over and vote for it and maybe something will happen.  You can just click RIGHT HERE and vote today!  If you vote a 1, I know where you live....