Saturday, April 23, 2011

Film Review: Giallo

"Giallo" *** (out of ****)

After watching "Scream 4" (2011), which I think is over-all a good, entertaining movie, I suddenly had an urge to watch a Dario Argento film. Because I've seen nearly all of his classic, earlier works, I decided to watch his latest film "Giallo" (2009).

Argento and "Giallo" have been taking a beating from fans and critics. I can kind of, sort of, understand. Dario Argento's more recent works have become very campy. He also no longer makes truly effective horror or supernatural films. Instead he has turned into a thriller filmmaker. "Giallo" has been called another weak attempt by a filmmaker who has lost his touch. Not so fast I say.

"Giallo" was anticipated as a "comeback" film for the famed Italian director. Giallo is not only the name of this particular film but is also a sub-genre in horror films. A sub-genre Argento was at one time considered to be a master of. Giallo (the Italian word for yellow) refers to cheap paperback suspense novels which had yellow covers. The novels combined horror with supernatural elements.

I'm happy to say I feel "Giallo" is somewhat an improvement over other more recent Argento films such as "Mother of Tears" (2008) and his version of "The Phantom of the Opera" (1998). Those movies were extremely campy and lacked any suspense. "The Phantom of the Opera" may very well be my least favorite Argento film. It is almost an embarrassment. "Giallo" does not suffer from this problem. The story here is taken much more serious. No ham acting. The dialogue is slightly better.

Still there are problems. The acting is wooden here. And Argento has a difficult time creating any suspense and anticipation. The film doesn't have a proper pace. But, when compared to Agento's other recent films, "Giallo" is a step in the right direction. For that reason we should offer some support and encouragement.

Adrien Brody stars in "Giallo" as Inspector Enzo Avolfi, a homicide detective who has been having a hard time capturing a serial killer, who goes after pretty women (don't they all?). Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner) fears her sister, Celine (Elsa Pataky) may be the killer's latest victim. So, this hard as nails cop teams up with the vulnerable lady to track down the killer.

The film tries to offer some insight into the Enzo character by giving us flashbacks of his troubled youth. He witnessed the murder of his mother. Is that why Enzo has become a police officer? Is that why Enzo has a hard shell and doesn't allow people to get close to him? Is that why he has an anti-social personality? Or is it because the screenwriters; Jim Agnew and Sean Keller didn't know how to write better, more convincing dialogue? It is a bit of both I think.

One of the major downfalls of "Giallo" is we lack a clear understanding of Enzo. I wonder what was Brody thinking when he read this script? What was his motivation? What kind of conversations did he and Argento have? I find it hard to believe neither man could see the character lacked dimension. The flashbacks aren't enough.

Another problem Argento fans are going to have with this film is there are no elaborate, stylized death scenes. This is a bit of a shock coming from a man who seemed to have had a fetish for blood. His camera would linger on it like an animal going after its prey. Of course in Argento's earliest films like "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" (1970) and "The Cat O' Nine Tails" (1971) he kept the violence mostly off screen. But in later films Argento earned a reputation for his startling death scenes (mostly of pretty girls). The best examples of his work are "Suspiria" (1977), "Deep Red" (1975), "Opera" (1987) and "Tenebre" (1982).

But once again, "Giallo" is still worth watching. It falls more into Argento's thriller period rather than a horror film. It has more in common with "The Stendhal Syndrome" (1996) than "Suspiria". Despite all of its flaws, like a weird ending, it is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately the film has been caught in legal troubles. Actor Adrien Brody has sued the film's producers and has tried to stop the film from being released on DVD (it did not received a theatrical release in America). He says he was not fully paid. Because of this a limited amount of people have seen the film. Brody is hurting the film by having its reputation proceed it. Thus viewers are walking into the film with a bad attitude and not giving the film a chance.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Film Review: Sitting Ducks

"Sitting Ducks" *** (out of ****) Henry Jaglom's "Sitting Ducks" (1980) is not the type of film we've come to expect from Jaglom. Especially at this point in his career. When "Sitting Ducks" was made Jaglom was part of the independent crowd that was breaking up the Hollywood studio system in the late 60s, early 70s. Jaglom even worked as an editor on the iconic liberal road picture, "Easy Rider" (1969). Eventually Jaglom found himself in the director's chair. His feature film debut was "A Safe Place" (1971) a psychological look at relationships concerning a female lead character who gets trapped in her own fantasy world. Next came "Tracks" (1977) a film dealing with the trauma associated with the Vietnam War. That movie starred Dennis Hopper. This all leads us to "Sitting Ducks", Jaglom's third film. Compared to the previous films it would seem "Sitting Ducks" was a kind of lark (to use another bird reference), a silly diversion. A much needed break for Jaglom, whom after dealing with such serious topics, could have probably used a good laugh. And to my delight "Sitting Ducks" mostly succeeds. The film centers on two would-be con men; Sidney (Zack Norman) and Simon (Michal Emil, Jaglom's brother). They have devised a plan to steal money from mob collectors and drive to Miami to enjoy the sun and lovely women. Once again, to a lesser extent, Jaglom is dealing with characters who want to escape reality. What makes "Sitting Ducks" work is the actors. All the credit must be given to Norman and Emil. Here, for the first time, Jaglom has made a film which directly centers on these two men's unique personalities. Their chemistry with each other and contradictions in personality make the film watchable. I have long been a fan of Zack Norman ever since I first saw him in Jaglom's "Festival in Cannes" (2001). At the time I compared him to Woody Allen. A fast talking, wild hand gesturing, city smart alec kind of guy. A big dreamer. Norman, by and large, plays the same character in each Jaglom film. But rather than criticise him for that, I'm entertained by it. The same way I enjoy seeing Woody Allen act in his own film, I enjoy the Norman character enough to want to spend time with him in each picture. Michael Emil also plays the same character in each Jaglom film. He usually is presented as more of a philosopher. An intellectual thinker who has a lot to say and love and sex. Jaglom has usually put him in more serious or romantic films; "Always" (1985) or "Someone To Love" (1987, which I have reviewed). In these movies Henry Jaglom is the center of attention. But again, in "Sitting Ducks" Jaglom utilizes Emil's persona to its fullest advantage. Characters like Emil and Norman simply belong in a comedy. They are naturally funny and animated. To put them in anything else would and does restrict them. "Sitting Ducks" is not a perfect film. It takes a few wrong steps. But they are largely forgivable. The film notices two female character who will serve as a love interest to each man. They are Jenny (Patrice Townsend, at the time she was married to Jaglom) and Irene (Irene Forrest). The introduction of these characters slightly shifts the focus of the film as now much of the dialogue centers on love and sex, which is right up Simon's alley. I also didn't like the fact we learn Sidney has a daughter. Is Sidney married? Why is he leaving his daughter behind? How long does he plan on staying away. From the way Sidney and Simon act, they are going to be on the run for a long time. Remember they stole money from the mob. Why introduce this aspect of Sidney. Not much of it is made later on in the film. It merely complicates matters if we chose to think about it. Still I cannot deny "Sitting Ducks" is the most purely enjoyable film I have seen by Jaglom in a while. It doesn't deal with his usually themes, telling us a story from a female perspective; "Babyfever" (1994), "Going Shopping" (2005) and "A Safe Place". It doesn't deal with artist; "Festival in Cannes", "Hollywood Dreams" (2006) or "Last Summer in the Hamptons" (1996) and lacks the romantic notions of "Deja Vu" (1998), "Always" and "Someone To Love" but that is okay. The film doesn't want to go in those directions. It wants, I believe, to be viewed as a kind of old-fashion comedy about two dreamers hoping to hit it big. And when viewed in that light, it works.