COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive Trilogy, Cinema Paradiso and Psychomania

Sunday, July 16, 2017

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE: BEGINNINGS OF AN MACBRE ARTIST



There is a fine line between what we consider horror and the movie genre known as the thriller. Horror makes us think of monsters both big and small, ghosts and goblins and the otherworldly. Thrillers tend to be suspense filled movies where a deep plot concerns the future of the known world. But there was a time when thrillers fell into the horror category, stories of murders most foul by killers we thought normal before their acts were revealed.

One group of films captured this style of movie, often made in Italy and given the term giallo, Italian for yellow. This was due to a series of mysteries released in that color and designated by the yellow covers they sported. Many consider the film THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH made by Mario Bava as the first movie of this genre. But while he may have begun the genre it was director Dario Argento who mastered it and made it more popular. And his first film as director, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, is now available in pristine condition from Arrow Video.

The story is straightforward it seems. Writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) has been in Italy for a few months trying to get over a case of writer’s block. Authoring a non-fiction book to make ends meet he now has the funds to return to the US with his girlfriend, model Julia (Suzy Kendall). Taking a walk through the city before heading home he sees something going in the local gallery. A dark clothed figure is in the middle of trying to stab a woman to death.

Sam runs to her aid but finds himself up against a pane of glass, the doorway into the gallery. As he tries to enter the fleeing killer presses a button and traps him between the two doors this and the pane behind him. A passerby sees him and Sam sends him for help. When the police arrive the woman is still alive and Sam becomes the initial suspect in her attempted murder putting an end to his plans to leave.

Disturbed by what he saw, Sam tries to help the man investigating the attack, Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno). It seems that this was not the first such attack to happen. A series of murders of young women has been taking place and frightening the entire city. With alibis for those murders suspicion is lifted from Sam but he continues to investigate on his own, knowing that there is something he is forgetting, something he saw that night that continues to elude him.

The deeper Sam digs into the case the more danger he places himself and Julia in. A phone call from the killer reveals just how much danger that involves. As the clues mount and the victims increase, it is only a matter of time before the killer makes an attempt on Sam or Julia. With each clue he discovers Sam’s memory begins to un-cloud and the killer will be revealed, a killer most will never guess.

All the ingredients of a typical giallo film are here. There is the killer, clothed all in black wearing black gloves we see time and time again. They select the knives he uses to kill, dial the phone and more. The involvement of the police detectives trying to find the killer is there. The gore filled (for its time) murder sequences are there. And the innocent victim accused of the crime who tries to find the real killer is the centerpiece of this film.

Elements of the giallo can be found in numerous movies made since and a few before. But the style was put to the greatest effect by the Italians and Argento in particular. In this and subsequent films his sense of style was such that it was easily recognizable and marveled over by fans of the genre. He went on to not only work in this genre but horror as well, most notably when he created the Three Mothers series of films that began with SUSPIRIA. His use of color and light, of shadows and mysterious visions and the use of electronic music (most often by the band Goblin) all worked together to make some of the most visually arresting movies in the most horrific of genres.

As with previous efforts Arrow has done and amazing job here making this worthy of adding to any collection. The film comes in a brand new 4k restoration from the camera negative making it the best version visually released to date. Extras include Italian and English soundtracks, English subtitles, audio commentary by giallo historian/author Troy Howarth, “The Power of Perception” visual essay by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger, a new interview with Dario Argento, an interview with actor Gildo Di Marco and a limited edition 60 page booklet about the film. As you can see they jam pack the extras.

As a horror fan I was glad to finally get the chance to see this film and in this condition. As I said earlier, it is one for movie fans to add to their collections and for all others to seek out to watch. Last week I discussed the disappearance of DVD or the question of will it happen. If movies of this caliber are released in this format then the odds of that decrease. 

DISAPPEARING DISCS?



It seems like every other week I’m reading online about the demise of the DVD disc. As streaming services like Hulu and Netflix begin offering more and more movies and TV series and things like Vudu offer a place to store your movies digitally the theory is that the hard copy disc will go the way of the vinyl LP. Take a look around folks, the vinyl LP is beginning to make a comeback.

First off let’s look at these services. Both Hulu and Netflix offer you access to thousands of movie and TV series at the press of a button. Both require that you have a connection to the internet to use them. If you watch via you cell phone this could get costly with a data plan and if you have unlimited data the next issue is watching on a 3 inch screen.

But there are two more problems I see with these services. Lately it seems that fewer and fewer top movies are being offered. Instead both are now creating their own movies and series to watch. In some cases (like DAREDEVIL on Netflix) this makes for great viewing. But still, no mega-budgeted blockbusters. Secondly you can’t watch what you want when you want. If you’re in the mood to watch a movie you love, like say GREASE, and it isn’t available at that time then you’re out of luck. You watch what they have to offer which changes monthly.

In the case of Vudu you can watch what you want when you want. Vudu is a service that allows you to purchase movies in a digital format. This means they store it online for you to watch where ever and whenever you access your account. In other words you can go to grandma’s, open up Vudu and watch whatever movie you purchased in digital format to add to your account. The problem here goes back to the whole needing an internet connection to watch these items.

Which brings us back to DVD discs. According to sources in the industry the sale of DVDs has dramatically reduced in the past few years. Movie studios are looking at the revenues they make from these sales and thinking that it means there is less interest in them. I, along with countless others who have made their voices heard online, tend to disagree.

For one they fail to notice the fact that older titles have already been purchased with no reason to buy them again. Sure, studios continue to try and release the same movie in umpteen different versions with tons of new extras. But if you already own a copy of GREASE do you really need to buy another that comes in a miniature leather jacket? Or that has new commentary tracks from Travolta and Newton-John?  Diehard fans maybe, but don’t expect mega sales on items like this.

Then there is the conversion from straight DVD to blu-ray. Not every movie needs to be upgraded from DVD to blu-ray so again, don’t expect that just releasing them this way will result in major new sales. Yes, the quality difference can be noticeable and on some movies, say the STAR WARS films, this upgrade makes purchasing the blu-ray format worthwhile. But the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL? Not quite worth it.

In addition to that the industry continues to try and upgrade everything that they release. As if blu-ray wasn’t good enough we now have 4K releases making an appearance. So you now need to invest not only in a 4K player, an upgraded new TV that shows 4K resolution AND repurchase all of those old movies you had on DVD and then blu-ray and now 4K…that can be far too expensive for the average household. But rather than consider that the studios claim their losing money on the old DVD discs.

And yet I still see people buying DVDs right and left. Amazon still lists them at fairly decent prices. Used DVD stores (like locally owned Mega Replay in Ft. Wayne) are packed to the gills with both DVD and blu-ray titles at great prices. Garage sales often find movies sold out among the first items for sale. Facebook groups have people selling their used movies at great prices. Ebay does the same.

Having these physical formats on hand is great for movie lovers. It means when you’re in the mood to binge watch James Bond and own all of the movies you can take a weekend and do so. The same with favorite series on hand. And if you aren’t connected to the internet or reach a point where you can’t afford it any longer, you still have your disc collection to watch. Having the option to watch what you want when you want is a big plus for discs.

There are pluses and minuses to every format around. Streaming services and digital services are a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But so are the physical formats that are out there like blu-ray and DVD. Certain companies like Arrow, Kino-Lorber and Twilight Time are making good money offering older titles in blu-ray format with new extras, new packaging and in limited quantities. So before the industry rings the death knell on the old format they may want to reconsider. And those of us who collect and love movies will continue to buy those movies that we’ve come to love and watch time and time again. What do you think?

GREY LADY: CONFUSING MYSTERY



A great mystery will provide you clues to assist in solving the puzzle as it moves forward. There have been a number of these made over the many decades movies have been around. A good mystery provides some of the information you need but not enough to aid you and in the end can either be satisfying in how the story is told or in the resolution. Most movie mysteries fall into this category, falling just a tad shy of being great. GREY LADY falls into that category.

Doyle (Eric Dane) is a Boston police detective who is romantically involved with his partner Maggie (Rebecca Gayheart). So much so that she is now pregnant, a fact she discovers just before they head out to work. On the way they receive a 911 distress call, a woman claiming she is being attacked. They answer the call only to find that it was a trap set up for them. Doyle is shot in the shoulder and Maggie is killed, an incision left in the back of her neck.

Fast forward to months later. Doyle is officially off the case and on leave. He’s headed to Nantucket, a place he once visited with his family as a child and the Grey Lady of the title, a name the islanders have to the island. Before she died in his arms Maggie gave him a clue, the heart and crown. That clue has led him here to a pub of that name, the only link that he can come up with. On the ferry to the Nantucket he meets a few others heading that way, a young woman named Eli (Carolyn Stotesberry) and a somewhat eccentric lady named The Duchess (Laila Robbins), the owner of an art gallery on Nantucket.

When the boat docks Doyle is greeted by Johnson (Adrian Lester), a local detective sent to take him to speak to police chief Maguire (John Shea). Doyle had phoned ahead seeking help and Johnson is there to assist him. While Johnson has no problems helping him, Doyle is not an easy nut to crack. He’s surly and not forthcoming with information. The locals continue to help Doyle even after his boss back in Boston tells him on the phone he is off the case and pending dismissal of he pursues it.

Here is where things first begin to get murky. We know the set up, we know why Doyle is here…but that’s all. The amount of evidence that would lead him here is minute at best. And yet here he is, chasing down small bits and pieces that we as viewers are not privy to. This is where we deviate from a great to a good mystery. How can we understand all that’s happening when we have no clues to decipher?

The plot moves forward and sifting through the bits and pieces we gather we begin to see where it’s going. More murders occur on the island. It appears the killer has followed Doyle and for some reason has set his sights on anyone close to him. As Doyle makes friends some find themselves deceased. He grows close to an artist on the island named Melissa (Natalie Zea) to the point they may become an item. It’s a slow attraction the two build over time and not one where he abandons his past love to jump in bed with a new woman, something nice and new in a movie.

The film moves forward to an inevitable conclusion where Doyle will face off against a killer he now can identify. What takes it up a notch is the story beneath the story. Is there a secret Doyle must discover in his search for the killer that involves him and his family personally or was it random? And if there is something else going on how can we figure out what that is if we are not presented with any information? By the end of the film all is revealed and the bits and pieces we were given become more obvious.

The movie is well crafted with a great look at Nantucket that relies less on the tried and true vacation hot spots and more on what the locals would see. The cinematography is well done capturing what appears to be a non-stop fog that rolls across the island most of the time. The acting on all counts is wonderful with each character portrayed as believable no matter what the circumstances.

In the end I enjoyed watching the movie from start to finish. Some will find themselves frustrated with the lack of clues and information, confused when there really was no reason to have things portrayed this way. But if you stick it out to the end you’ll find a satisfying ending that closes the circle and makes it all apparent.


Click here to order.