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Piano 17 (2005)
Low budget, high entertainment
"Piano 17" is an extraordinary achievement first, then a good action movie: shot on HDV on a shoestring budget of 65,000 (that should convert to around $ 71.000, these days), it is a highly entertaining thriller taking place around three people stuck in an elevator with a ticking bomb.
Although some of the premises are absurd (but not at all more absurd than - say - those behind such previous blockbusters as Jan DeBont's "Speed"), the script and the direction do manage to keep the plot going at pace fast enough to prevent you from asking too many questions.
There are moments where you wish the film to be even better - it takes a little while to get the story really spinning and there's just a couple of dialogs that overstay their welcome a little bit. But all in all the film works very well building up to a nail biting climax.
The transfer to 35mm for projection cannot completely hide the fact the film was shot on digital - but otherwise the production values are first level. It will probably play much better on DVD or video than it does in a theater - but as it is it does hold up much better than most of the films shot on video that I happened to see around.
It should be seen by anyone who can enjoy a thriller, but it is definitely a must for anyone planning to direct: it is a lesson on humility, craft and will. And very entertaining to boot. If I were a foreign distributor (hint! hint!) I'd snatch it up in a second.
Zombie Honeymoon (2004)
Love means never having to say you're rotting
I saw this at the Torino Film Festival a couple of months ago.
The director introduced the movie before the screening. He's a nice New Jersey guy, who almost could not believe he had been invited to Torino with his second feature film (the first one's title is called "The Homeboy" and it is briefly seen here in a funnily self-deprecating scene at a video-rental (a furious client returns it to the clerk and yells his money back - but he has to pay for returning it late). "Zombie Honeymoon", said the director, "is probably the first zombie-movie ever to be based on personal experience".
The audience was ready to laugh, but there was nothing funny about that: the plot is an effort to handle the untimely demise of the director's brother-in-law, who died in a surfing accident shortly after getting married. The premise of the movie, therefor, is telling the story of two people trying to remain together against all possible odds.
The film's protagonist, Danny, is a surfer as well - but what gets him (temporarily) killed is not an accident: like a rotting pal of Venus Anadiomene, a zombie walks out from the sea to directly attack the poor guy and vomit black goo straight into his mouth. Then he falls dead over him. Rushed unconscious to the hospital, our hero also dies, only to come back to life a few minutes later. Problem is, after coming back home he finds himself desperately hungry for human flesh - which understandably proves a shock to his young wife Denise.
While presenting the film, Gebroe introduced it as a cross between a John Cassavetes piece and "Night of the Living Dead" - which is a fitting description for "Zombie Honeymoon". Although the photography does leave a lot to be desired (the film is all shot on digital video, and the choice of a hand-held camera style proves somewhat a bit annoying instead of contributing to the realistic effect ), the dialog and the interaction between the two unfortunate newlyweds are all absolutely believable - and even moving at times. Graham Sibley (Danny) is OK, but the selling point to the film is Tracy Coogan's Denise - not only she's beautiful: she is also great in totally selling the story.
Maybe the film does lose some steam halfway through, when the gruesome suppers of Danny start becoming a little repetitive. However, the final 20 minutes are genuinely poignant - starting with a great scene where Danny, after eating some of his victims, spends a long time in the dark of his and Denise's home playing with one of those arcade games from the 80s, while Denise, devastated, comes close to him and watches him play the game without uttering a single word.
I won't spoil the ending of the best zombie romance since the underrated "Return of the Living Dead III", but any Blues Brothers fan should love the way Gebroe uses the song "Sometimes is Hard to be a Woman" - we sure kept humming it for the rest of the evening, while discussing if death couldn't be seen as the ultimate handicap. Do check this film out, it's worth your while.
Masters of Horror (2005)
Festival views of the Landis, Garris and Dante segments (no spoilers)
I've just come back from the Torino Film Festival, and was thus able to check out a few episodes that have yet to be screened in the U.S. I thought I'd write down a few quick notes just to highlight the treats that are up for Showtime viewers.
I was able to see - projected on a big screen in HD - the episodes directed by Landis, Dante, Argento, Hooper, Garris and Coscarelli. And the first thing to say is each one of them would deserve an individual spot here on IMDb. Although it kinda makes sense to review the pilot of most TV series, on this particular one that is a big mistake: the whole point of this format, created by Mick Garris out of a series of friendly dinners with fellow horror directors, is there's no conceptual format. Yes, each episode is a horror, and yes, each episode is about 1-hour. But that's as far as the format goes: each episode is distinctly personal, and only reflects the style of its author-director. Judging the series as a whole is therefore pointless.
That said, all the episodes I've seen are really worth watching and much above average television. You've already been able to see Hooper's disturbing "Dance of the Dead" segment, Coscarelli's fast-paced "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" and Argento's sickeningly sexy "Jenifer", of course. Be sure not to miss Landis', Garris' and especially Dante's episodes when they air.
John Landis's "Deer Woman" is a radical development of the whole premise behind such a classic as "An American Werewolf in London". The idea on that film was giving the werewolf myth a realistic, almost everyday spin to make it scary again in spite of tons of bad werewolf movies. "Deer Woman" does the same, only the premise is even more outrageous, because the monster is something you're unlikely to having heard about before: a creature half woman and half deer which seduces men and then kicks and tramples them to death. With such a ridiculous premise, you'd never believe a filmmaker could produce the smallest shiver in any average viewer. The fact that "Deer Woman" does, without relying on any established movie myth, is a tribute to Landis' (John, but also his son Max, who wrote the screenplay) deep knowledge of how horror movies work. Without even the slightest hint of parody, this film is funny *and* scary and a triumph of what is called suspension of disbelief. Great performances by former "Dream On" star Brian Benben and heart-stopping newcomer Cinthia Moura.
Mick Garris's "Chocolate" is based on a "Twilight Zone" like premise: a guy suddenly starts sharing a stranger woman's senses - it all starts with sounds, and then it becomes images and event tactile feelings. This lures him into an obsession which is very similar to love but also has a strong potential for tragedy. Kind of an ultimate "amour fou", this is quite a bizarre, yet moving, love story that you'll find both involving and desperate.
Joe Dante's segment was acclaimed by thunderous applause at the festival, and it is the most overtly political. I wish someone would dare doing a similar film on our (Italian) administration: "Homecoming" deals openly with how Iraqi war was based on the blatant lie of Mass Destruction Weapons that were found not to exist, and has dead marines coming back from their graves as zombies to let the Bush administration know what they think of its lies. The President is actually never mentioned in person: but the clues are so crystal-clear one couldn't miss even if he tried hard. Witty and bitterly cynical, this is a film a Billy Wilder might have made if he was interested in horror. It should be a must-see for anyone who's voted for the current administration - and also for anyone who thinks horror cannot deal with important issues.
I am dying to see the next episodes.
(update of april 26th, 2006)
At last I was able to see "Imprint", the 13th episode in this 12 episode series, and the one that was deemed too gruesome to actually be aired on US television. It was screened, however, in the UK (albeit with some cuts, or so they say) and on a big screen at the Italian "Far East Film Festival" - which makes sense since it's directed by Takashi Miike. You can't help but admire this man's portentous energy: he keeps cranking out movie after movie after movie, and he does so without giving any impression of fatigue, or of cutting corners. True, "Imprint" does have a couple of very long, static, takes that effortlessly beef up the final footage: but they work that way, and contribute notably to the result. In spite of some dialog that sounds annoyingly literate (and it's mostly over-acted, which does not help) this episode is strong on atmosphere since its very beginning, with the main character being carried on a heavily charged boat on eerie waters. Not all of the story makes a lot of sense, but neither does expecting logic from a horror film. This one has a typically Miikian torture scene which is sure to make anyone cringe (it involves, just so you know what you'll have to endure as a watcher, suspension bondage and needles under fingernails and gums), and a freak-happy ending that is quite disturbing, in a silly kind of way. I saw a version that allegedly was slightly cut, but - surprisingly - was a little longer than the average MoH episode, running up to a little more than 1h.
Franco Bagongo (2002)
Rare, but worth looking for
An elegant, Melville-esquire exercise in non-mainstream noir film-making. It could be argued it's a bit thin on plot but - come on! - is really plot what movies are all about? This one is definitely strong on visual mood. Shot on video, in black and white, somewhere in Northern Italy. The title was inspired by an in-joke shared by some of the posters on the movie newsgroup it.arti.cinema, but that has nothing to do with the story. Any early Kitano fan should enjoy this, although the film does have a distinctly personal flavor that puts it in a league of its own. Hard to find, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a VHS screener - that I am jealously holding on to. This was shot at no cost - I mean Robert Rodriguez is a spender compared to these guys. Hope it gets some kind of exposure, some day: it would deserve it.
Secondo Giovanni (2000)
Experimental, not mental
I am always a bit suspicious when I stumble into a piece of experimental cinema. However I happened to love this weird one. A kind of underground/intellectual version of "The Passion", this one mixes subliminal imagery and particularly a clever use of superimposed text to try and overload the viewers' mental cache. Lots of impressive images, they probably worked their ass off in postproduction. Definitely worth a look for connoisseurs of weird cinema, or anyone who likes to explore how a film can let you exercise mind muscles you would never know you had if you only watched the mainstream fare.
Giorni dispari (2000)
Playing with the plot structure
An unusual effort for an Italian production and a striking debut for the former AD Dominick Tambasco, "Giorni Dispari" tells us the average day of Giovanna, a "cubist" as they call those girls wiggling on pedestals in the discos. Her story intersects with those of two other characters: Salvatore -Giovanna's depressed father- and Bruna, Giovanna's best friend with whom Salvatore has a secret affair. The characters are followed one by one by Tambasco's peeping camera: but since their stories take place simultaneously, we are sometimes treated to multiple points of view of the same event, in a way that is reminiscent of Kubrick's "The Killing" or Tarantino's underrated "Jackie Brown". Tambasco's directing style changes adroitly from episode to episode, but his screenplay is iron-proof and shows how playfully end entertainingly you can and should experiment with movie language.
Coming Soon (1982)
Lots of good stuff for horror trailer buffs
A great runaway compilation of highlights from tons of horror and SF trailers from the past, including Landis' own "An American Werewolf in London" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Great fun, although one wonders who decided to tack stuff related to "E.T." in the final part (probably a way to hype the movie, which was then being released).
L'uomo della fortuna (2000)
Nice-looking first attempt to feature
Although unusually good looking for an Italian comedy, "L'uomo della fortuna" is not as well written as you would like it to be. The plot is simple and straightforward enough, but the film eventually succumbs to a fatal lack of decision on the tone of the story, switching too often and too abruptly between dreamlike romance, screwball comedy and drama. A good photography and carefully constructed compositions show director Silvia Saraceno is a much better a director than she's a writer.
Average TV fun
The problem with "Tutti gli uomini del deficiente" is: it's not as much a movie as a patchwork of tv-star walk-ons, with the voiced-over comments of the popular Gialappa's Band. Some of the scenes are hilarious enough, but the usual comments of the three Gialappa guys sound pointless enough on material that was supposedly written on a screenplay: on the tv shows the formula kind of works as the Gialappa comments live on programs they are watching on TV. In a movie you'd expect -and you're entitled to expect- some more wit.
The Stupids (1996)
Underrated fun for smart kids and open-minded adults
There's only one problem with THE STUPIDS: it's not a stupid movie at all. I have seen it with a few kids that literally loved its wacky succession of explosions, space aliens, animated characters, slapstick, music and outrageous settings and costumes. However, the movie's mostly aimed at adults that are intelligent enough not to take it at face value, and who are willing and able to actually pay attention to what's happening. THE STUPIDS is actually a merciless satire of xenophobia, of the conspiracy obsession and of the arrogant belief that God -er... The Lloyd- is on your side. Try to see this in English, as most of the puns get lost in the translation.