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

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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

Body Double


Viewed – 23 February 2017  Blu-ray

A struggling actor (Craig Wasson – A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) finds himself looking for somewhere to crash following the discovery of his girlfriend’s affair, but soon descends into an underworld of voyeurism, sex and a who-dunnit murder mystery.

Body Double

I’ve always admired the movies of prolific film-maker Brian De Palma and consider some of his output all time classics (Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables).  He has a distinctive visual eye and can put his skills to a number of genres.  However it’s when his movies attract comparisons to the movies of Alfred Hitchcock and also Italian shock maestro Dario Argento that I become the most interested.  Body Double bares a strong resemblance to both film-maker’s works but also has a perfectly sleazy tone that references a different time and is very much a celebration of 80s excess and exploitation.  The story for what it is isn’t that well done and is fairly obvious and easy to predict especially if you’re at all familiar with any of the cast.  However what is fun is De Palma’s cinematic eye that can make even mundane sounding sequences, like a journey through a shopping mall or a beach front terrace, enthralling due to some clever camera work and genuine tension.  Craig Wasson is likeable if a rather unsympathetic character, and I’d forgotten just how much fun Melanie Griffith used to be and is adept here at delivering some great lines which are probably too explicit to repeat.  Yet the movie is on a whole, especially considering De Palma’s impressive catalogue; a bit of an oddity and takes some alarming shifts in tone and style leaving me wondering what was the grand plan here…it really does feel a little thrown together.  For a piece of 80s genre sleaze however, I’d still say give this a chance.

Body Double Blu-rayThe Blu-ray suffers from a few smudgy scenes, especially towards the end of the movie for some reason … but this 4k restoration is otherwise decent looking with strong colours and some nice detail both in close-up and in De Palma’s grand wide shots.  Dialogue is also crisp and free of lip-sync that I could see, and is delivered in the original stereo as well as a 5.1 soundtrack, which although not really making much use of surrounds is effective, especially in the lengthy ‘Relax’ sequence (spot the cameo by Holly Johnson).  This collector’s edition from Indicator boasts a 40 page booklet that has an in-depth interview taken from 1984 as well as a ‘Brian De Palma’s Guilty Pleasures’ segment exploring the director’s influences.  The Blu-ray itself comes with a series of featurettes with interviews with cast and crew, some archive, others more recent and proves invaluable for those interested in film-making and that of the movie itself and it’s legacy.  Surprisingly no commentary which would have rounded this release off superbly but as it stands this is above average treatment for probably one of De Palma’s lesser efforts that still makes for a worthy purchase.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Disturbia


Viewed – 26 January 2008  DVD

After watching and loving Transformers, I admit to being rather impressed by young actor Shia LeBeouf, who seems to have the troubled nerd routine down to a fine art.  So picking this teen thriller up was a no brainer. 

It’s basically a riff on the classic Hitchcock film Rear Window, and has LeBouf as a troubled teenager under house arrest who thinks there’s a serial killer living across the road from him.  Add to this the fact he’s found himself as a Peeping Tom checking out the neighbours seriously sexy daughter, and much fun and tension ensue.  Soon he’s got his best friend involved in his stake out and catches the eye of said girl next door (likeable newcomer Sarah Roemer), and before long, these teen detectives are trying to unmask a possible homicidal maniac. 

The film neatly blends teen comedy with very adult thrills & shocks, and together we have a very entertaining and well-made movie, that throws us likable characters you genuinely feel concern for and a credible boo-hiss villain, even if nothing is ever really explained about him or his motives. 

Well worth a look.

 Verdict:  3 /5