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Knife Of Ice (1972) ***

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Umberto Lenzi's fourth and final collaboration with Carroll Baker, Knife Of Ice(1972), is a solid thriller that plays more like a 60s Bavagiallo than the more grisly efforts that flooded Italian cinemas the same year. It's reminiscent of Fulci's Don't Torture A Duckling, which was released a few months later, albeit much tamer in terms of gore.

KOI begins with an actual bullfight that is brutal, difficult to watch, plays out far longer than it needs to, and is in fact not necessary at all, in this viewer's opinion. The film would work just fine without it—outside of flashing back to this opening very briefly later on, it serves no purpose to the story. It's a shame because the rest of the film is good and actually pretty old fashioned—virtually bloodless and bereft of sex. But that doesn't hurt the film, which features Baker as a mute woman with a tragic past living with her uncle in a Spanish villa. Despite the lack of dialogue, this might just be the best …

A Quiet Place To Kill (aka Paranoia) (1970) ***

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For Umberto Lenzi's third giallo (of four) with Carroll Baker, Paranoia(1970), released in the US as A Quiet Place To Kill (and not to be confused with their earlier pairing, Orgasmo (1969), released in the States as Paranoia (my review here)), he tapped into the then popular trend in Italian thrillers of stories about jet-setters committing heinous acts.

As with the duo's second film together (1969's So Sweet… So Perverse (my review here)), I liked this one slightly more than the pairing that preceded it (tonight's viewing of their final collaboration, Knife Of Ice(1972), will reveal whether that trend continues through to the end). Also like SSSP, Paranoia again taps into Diabolique (1955) (my review here) for inspiration. But Paranoia, while not a gory affair, has that touch more sleazy/salaciousness I'd been yearning for in the Lenzi gialli.

Baker stars as Helen, a Formula One driver whose ex-husband Maurice's (Jean Sorel) current wife Constance (Anna Proc…

So Sweet… So Perverse (1969) ***

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Umberto Lenzi and Carroll Baker's second pair-up and second giallo of 1969, So Sweet… So Perverse, is slightly better than their first, Orgasmo(aka Paranoia) (my review here). Part of that is down to the Martino brothers being involved (Luciano wrote the story and produced while Sergio executive produced), part of it is down to giallo superscribe Ernesto Gastaldi writing the screenplay (although the ending is a tad convoluted even for Gastaldi), and part of it down to the plot essentially being an Italian update of Diabolique(1955) (my review here).

On that last note, I have to say—with that title and this being a giallo and all—that I actually find the film a little tame. Given the nature of the story, I was expecting it to be a touch more sleazy and salacious. I found Jean-Louis Trintignant pretty wooden as well (which sort of works for the part but detracts from the melodrama a bit). There's still a lot to appreciate though, including competent direction from Lenzi, good pe…

Orgasmo (aka Paranoia) (1969) ***

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A year before Dario Argento's The Bird With The Crystal Plumageushered in the giallo boom, Umberto Lenzi made Orgasmo (1969) (released in the US as Paranoia—not to be confused with his 1970 film Paranoia, released in the States as A Quiet Place To Kill), his first giallo and first of four with star Carroll Baker (Baby Doll(1956)).

I enjoyed this psychosexual thriller a lot but despite the salacious elements (incest, orgies, hallucinogens, blackmail), it's kind of a slowburn. To be sure, there is some stylish—at times psychedelic—filmmaking on display and I found Colette Descombes particularly enticing. The Piero Umiliani (the man who wrote "Mah Nà Mah Nà") score is great, as is the Wess & The Airedales earworm "Just Tell Me" that the twincestuousLou Castel and Descombes play incessantly as part of their scheme to drive Baker mad). The ending is deliciously satisfying as well, even if it is tangential.

You can find my Giallo Feature Films Ranked list he…

The Andromeda Strain (1971) ***1/2

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The Andromeda Strain(1971), based on Michael Crichton's 1969 novel (his first written under his own name), successfully blends realistic science with movie thrills to create a film that satisfies both nerds and laypeople alike (although some may actually find the pace too slow). There are exciting, tense scenes in the beginning and especially the ending—which includes a race against the clock—but the drawn-out, procedural hour(ish) in between may lose some viewers. I was personally invested throughout, largely due to Robert Wise's expert direction.

Wise was a director who never had a particular stamp but he was incredibly versatile throughout his career as a director. He did sci-fi (The Andromeda Strain, The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), Star Trek: The Motion Picture(1979)); horror (The Curse Of The Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher(1945), The Haunting(1963) (listen to me discuss that film here); musicals (West Side Story(1961) (my review here), The Sound Of Music(1965)…

Spartacus (1960) ***1/2

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Executive producer/starKirk Douglas famously fired director Anthony Mann from Spartacus (1960) just a week after shooting began. Why he thought replacement Stanley Kubrick would be a good match for this type of movie spectacle is beyond me (though I completely understand why Kubrick took the gig). Perhaps it's because from working with him on Paths Of Glorythree years earlier he saw that Kubrick had vision and scope but perhaps too he didn't realize that the man was fiercely independent (to the extent that a director can be) and staunch in his stance of overseeing every aspect of and having final cut on his films.

Originally intended to be written under a pseudonym by Dalton Trumbo (and later publicly announced by Douglas, helping to end the blacklist), Spartacus tells the story of the titular gladiator/leader's slave revolt which led to the Third Servile War. Featuring a star-studded cast, a grand score by Alex North, and many memorable moments, Spartacus is nonetheless …

The Reflecting Skin (1990) ****

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Director Philip Ridley self-described his 1990 debut feature film, The Reflecting Skin, as "Blue Velvet(1986) (my review here) with children." This is only partially true. Ridley's film certainly has some very Lynchian encounters between characters but it's more than what his quote would lead you to believe. In fact, it's something of a bloody, unapologetic mini masterpiece.

TRS is the tale of a young boy coming of age in the Midwest whose childhood is fraught with constant tragedy, violence, cruelty, and fantasy. The landscapes in the film are very Malickian (is that a phrase?), which makes sense, given that Days Of Heaven(1978) and this film were both very influenced by the work of realist painter Andrew Wyeth (imagine endless golden fields). The cinematography in TRS truly is gorgeous, taking full advantage of its locations. It's the type of film strongly driven by visuals, mood and sound over dialogue. Ridley's background as a painter and visual artis…

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) ****

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Nearly seventy years on, Elia Kazan's 1951 film of Tennessee Williams' (who also wrote the screenplay) 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desireremains a powerful portrait of gender roles, toxic masculinity, mental health, and domestic violence.

Though some of the cinematic techniques used are a bit dated, Streetcar is a beautifully dark chiaroscuro affair to rival any film noir. Given Blanche's (an electric Vivien Leigh) elevated fantasy world lived within her head, her melodramatic performance and the way the camera captures her only make sense. Both she and Kim Hunter ("Stella!") are attractive females but there is no mistaking that Brando is the film's sex symbol, smoldering on screen and driving both women wild with his perfect physique.

In this—only his second film—reprising (along with Hunter and the always great Karl Malden) his Broadway role, Brando became a superstar with his intense method acting. Stanley Kowalski is a complicated character—on one hand r…

Guys And Dolls (1955) ***1/2

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It's a strange experience to watch a film like Guys And Dolls(1955) through a "2020 lens". I still really like this film a lot but it's certainly "problematic". And that's coming from a viewer who always takes when a film was released into context.

I think the best way to enjoy a film like G&D is to view it as a product of the past, one with misogynistic gender norms galore (and to be fair I watch films that are far bigger offenders), but one that still has plenty of movie magic. And that's what I really love about musicals more than anything else—the choreography, the costumes, the staging, the production design, the direction, the physicality, and, yes, usually the songs. G&D perhaps has a bit less of all that than other well-known musicals and/or it's less impressive overall, but I still find a lot to appreciate—including the performances, the characters, and all the wonderful colors.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) ***

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Upon a rewatch I liked The Fearless Vampire Killers(1967) more than the first time I viewed it. I still think Polanski's quasi-sex comedy is overlong, scenes drag on longer than necessary, the humor is too broad and the tone is uneven. But I also still think the production design (artifice and all), cinematography and score are all excellent (looking better than ever via Warner Archive's 2019 Blu-ray). For a more detailed analysis, I recommend listening to the Movie Matters PodcastHalloween Special VII (Fangsgiving) episode, where I guested with co-founders Michael Mackenzie and Lee Howard, here. Much of what we discussed in that 2016 episode holds true but I have a little bit more appreciation for it now.

You can find my Roman Polanski Feature Films Ranked list here.