Vertigo


Viewed 25 June 2020 (A-Z Collection Challenge)

Next to Psycho, this is probably one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s most celebrated movies. Starring James Stewart (It’s A Wonderful Life) as a former cop turned private detective who is hired by an old friend to follow his wife Madeline around. Concerned with her strange behaviour, the friend believes she’s reliving her long dead grandmother’s life, who committed suicide at 26. So it’s up to Stewart to figure out the mystery whilst at the same time battling his own crippling Vertigo.

Hanging in there…

Hitchcock’s movie is bathed in a wealth of garish colours that really make it pop off the screen. The cinematography showcasing San Francisco as well as avant-gard restaurants and the like, is gorgeous and rather surreal looking, giving the movie that classic Hollywood sheen with a hint of creepiness. Stewart is great, likeable and fascinating, as is Kim Novak’s dangerously alluring Madeline. The atmosphere here is often haunting and a bit weird but works perfectly. I’ve not seen all that many Hitchcock movies but this one definitely has its own vibe even if the everyman in a bad situation and the femme fatale are typical tropes of the director from what I hear.

The ending came about a bit abruptly and the love story felt rather forced. What it was all about in the end wasn’t as interesting as the build up either. Overall though, with its haunting atmosphere, distinct look and solid performances … I still had a good time with this.

The Blu-ray image is very pleasing even if the darkest scenes seem to get a bit too murky. Detail on a whole is impressive though. The soundtrack is effective too, helped by Bernard Herman’s at times intense score. Extras consist of featurettes covering the movie’s restoration, Alfred Hitchcock’s collaborators, and a period of foreign censorship. However the highlight is a commentary by director William Friedkin (The Exorcist). Impressive stuff and overall a stellar package.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

A-Z Challenge – update 3


Well, this is becoming quite the challenge for me personally. I’ve now reached letter S having ploughed through 7 more movies. Revisiting La La Land for L was surprising in how much I enjoyed it and appreciated the story second time around, and would now rate it higher than my existing review. For M, Mission Impossible Fallout was an easy pick as I’d brought it on Blu-ray awhile back and not got around to watching it. Yes just as good if not better on second viewing.

La La Land

Reaching N … I chose another Alfred Hitchcock classic, North By Northwest … an exciting man-in-the-wrong-place mystery thriller with Cary Grant that was a lot of fun. O was one my most disappointing movie of last year, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and although I enjoyed it a little bit more, it overall didn’t work for me and I stand by my initial review.

I recently reviewed Parasite, my letter P and was overall impressed with it, despite a somewhat far-fetched ending. Q was the mostly reviled Bond outing Quantum of Solace, a movie I still think is ok but the story is weak and unengaging even though Daniel Craig is still good and some of the action is great. Then we came to R and I chose the Spanish found-footage horror [REC] a movie I really like even if subsequent viewings do dilute the experience for me.

Now will I get the remaining 8 movies watched by June 30th? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Frenzy


Viewed – 09 May 2020 Blu-ray (A-Z Collection Challenge)

I have a confession. I have never really got that much into the movies of famed director Alfred Hitchcock, and my experiences with his work have been fleeting at best, with possibly only Rear Window being a movie I have watched all the way through. However I intend to rectify this and have recently purchased a couple of box sets that house many of his classics. This 1972 effort, made towards the end of his career may not have the word of mouth or notoriety of movies like Psycho or The Birds, but I’d say is still worthy of your time.

Following getting fired from his job as a bartender, a man becomes embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer, nicknamed the necktie killer due to the victims, all women being found strangled with a tie. Set in London and with a decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone, mostly shot in bright daylight, this like Psycho marries the mundanity of normal life and normal folk with the looming shadow of a killer. The movie isn’t a whodunnit as-such, more of a ‘how do I prove I didn’t do it?’, with the actual killer revealed early on. Filled with interesting, quirky characters, a very of-the-time acting style, some corny cor-blimey cockney dialogue and several recognisable faces from British television … this wasn’t like any serial killer thriller I’d seen, which made the movie more ‘fun’ than expected. Such a style at times sat uneasy with more shocking scenes including a rape and murder, with the killer particularly unnerving in his relative normality. Yet that all worked in the movie’s favour I’d say.

As an introduction to Hitchcock this might be a bit Hitchcock-lite from what I hear, although retains his famed visual flourishes and suspense. On its own merits, I found this unique and gripping … and I rather enjoyed it.

The Blu-ray, part of the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection has an impressively sharp and vibrant image, that has a look of technicolour. Grain is intact and detail very good throughout. Sound is also effective and clear in DTS Master Audio 2.0. Extras consist of a fascinating making of documentary as well as a trailer and production photographs.

Verdict:

(the movie). Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage


Viewed – 20 June 2017  Blu-ray

Cult Italian horror auteur Dario Argento’s 1970 debut, has all the trade marks that have distinguished his career right through to the present.  The black gloved killer, beautiful female victims, superb camera work, an effective, characteristically unnerving musical score, and grand set-piece murders.  Tony Musante plays an American writer travelling in Rome with his girlfriend (the gorgeously photogenic Suzy Kendall, who resembles like a young Suzanne George), when he witnesses an attempted murder on a local female gallery owner by a dark figure dressed in a black raincoat.  He quickly becomes amateur sleuth after the local detective takes away his passport, and soon further murders take place and he grows ever closer to unmasking the assailant.

Although by no means as graphic as the director’s other works, this well told murder mystery harks back to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock in both the theme and iconic imagery.  Dario Argento has been often labelled the Italian Hitchcock, and with this thriller such a label is hard to deny.  Yet although his work has become more abstract and bizarre over the years, and such creating a style that is distinctly his own, with this effective film, the director made a mark in cinema that introduced the world to a bold and brilliant new visionary.  Engaging performances by its lead actors (especially Musante), several colourful, odd-ball characters and situations that really get your pulse racing create a distinctly classy thriller right up their with the director’s best.  

Bird with the Crytsal Plumage

This newly restored 4k transfer from the always dependable guys at Arrow Video comes in a deluxe box set that boasts a vintage poster, a detailed booklet and the movie itself on both Blu-ray and DVD complete with a plethora of extras.  We get an essential audio commentary by Argento expert Troy Howarth as well as a new interview with the director, featurettes, trailers and newly commissioned artwork with a reversible sleeve.  Add to this 6 art cards.  The movie itself is in great shape with a clean, grainy image that only suffers from somewhat garish colours (which I’ll admit suit the era the movie was made in).  The soundtrack may only be in it’s original mono audio but is still effective, especially with composer Ennio Morricone’s memorable, haunting score.  An impressive treatment for a genuine classic of the Italian giallo genre.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Dressed to Kill


Viewed – 03 March 2017  Blu-ray

Another entry in my growing collection of Brian De Palma movie reviews, this time the director’s much admired thriller from 1980.  This is probably the movie that borrows most from Italian Giallo, a genre of stalk and slash thrillers made famous by directors like Mario Bava and of course, Dario Argento.  It also borrows heavily from Hitchcock (especially Psycho), another of De Palma’s regular influences.

Dressed To Kill

A house wife (Angie Dickinson) trapped in a sexually unfulfilling marriage, finds herself yearning for an affair and confesses as much to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine).  However following a chance encounter at an art gallery that leads to a one night stand, the housewife is brutally murdered.  A hooker (Nancy Allen) turns out to be the only witness.

A very of-it’s-time experience initially, with some explicit nudity and rather awkwardly handled sex making early scenes resemble a porn film.  However once the killer strikes things shift into gear dramatically and De Palma’s cinematic flair spreads it’s wings.  This is another movie that is visually captivating and often ingenious … a stand out art gallery sequence and a tense subway scene both showcasing a director at the top of his game.  Add to this a murder-mystery plot that twists and turns wonderfully and even when you discover who the killer is, re-watching certain scenes reveal clever little details and clues.  The acting is mostly adequate with even Michael Cain proving limited and at times a bit wooden … although Nancy Allen proves much more enjoyable.  However like the Giallo the movie tips it’s hat to; acting and performances aren’t the big draw, more so tension and style and well, the occasional bloody murder.  The movie lacks the body-count of a fully fledged Italian thriller, and retains it’s own quirks, with the inclusion of a geeky science student (Keith Gordon) and a stereotypical Police chief (Dennis Franz).  As a package though this delivers a gripping narrative with some genuinely impressive sequences, worthy of it’s legacy.

Blu-rayThe Blu-ray from Arrow Video boasts a rather soft-focus but otherwise clean image.  Colours are rather muted and overall it’s simply acceptable with no real ‘wow’ factor.  More note-worthy is the sound, with a dramatic, perfectly implemented orchestral score and crisp dialogue, both in stereo and a punchy 5.1 HD Master Audio.  I should add that the movie is uncut for the first time in the UK.  Extras are plentiful with several featurettes, including a detailed making of as well as a photo gallery.  There’s also a detailed booklet included that covers the director’s influences and an analysis of the movie by critic Maitland McDonagh.  Again no commentary from De Palma which would have been great but as it stands this is decent treatment for a somewhat forgotten classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5