Last year, between the two of us, we watched an average of 317 movies.
This year our goal is to top that by watching at least one a day.
And as an extra special torture, we've decided to write about all of them.

11 July 2008

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (aka. L'Uccello dalle piume di cristallo), dir. Dario Argento (1970)

NIKKI says:
Well, this officially becomes my second favourite Argento flick after the brilliantly awesome Profondo Rosso. The reason I loved this one so much? Because I understood everything that was going on. That's unusual with Argento. Often there's so much subtext going on, and concentration on frightening visuals that the plot gets left a bit behind. (I think Argento himself has said that plot and acting talent are the least focused on ingredients in his pictures.) Here, though, the film is plot-heavy with great actors and decidedly light on thrills and effects. It's clearly early Argento (his debut as a director, I believe), and its just great.

Tony Musante (the great and tragic Schibetta from Oz) plays a guy who witnesses a fairly harrowing murder inside an art gallery. He spends the rest of the film searching for the murdered in the black suit, hat, and gloves. The killer taunts him, kills others around him, and he must hunt deep in his memory to piece together just what he really saw at the museum.

The whole thing about memory and the mind playing tricks is fascinating. So, not only have you got Argento telling a story, he's doing it with a message. Just what do we see when we view events from afar? How can we ever be sure that what we're seeing is the truth? What is truth when it comes to reliance on memory and sharp-moving visuals? This is a really great exploration of those themes, and it's tense and scary when it needs to be, bloodthirsty at just the right moments, and packed with interesting characters.

It's truly one of his best movies. The development of the artist is so obvious in this one, down to the black gloves, the close-ups on the eyes, and the spurting blood. Old Dario is always the best, and this just proves that.


STEVE says:
On the back of the DVD packet, Argento is said to have "single-handedly created the Giallo genre". Just think about being the one who created a genre. That's pretty fucking cool. Romero and Zombies, Stoker and Vampires, Bava and Giallo. Sweet.

This claim, however, is almost immediately disputed on the commentary track by Alan Jones and Kim Newman. It's Mario Bava, they say, who created the genre, but Argento - and specifically this film - was the first to make use of it after all the rules were laid out.

Either way, I don't like to think of Giallo as a genre. I think of it as a style, like Film Noir, something that happened organically and only classified in retrospect.

Even if he didn't create it, Argento clearly knew how to use the style, and this movie has it in spades - unlike some of his later work in and out of the Giallo mold. At some stage Argento became less interested in story and more in shocking visuals, and I think Giallo - whether a genre or a style - was the poorer for it.


The Flock, dir. Andrew Lau (2007)

NIKKI says:
I just don't know what to say. I found The Flock interesting and chilling. I didn't find myself disliking the movie while it was on. But, I'm not sure I liked it all the same. Then again, it's not the kind of movie you walk away raving about. It's harrowing and brutal. In fact, that might be one thing I liked most about it -- it pulled few punches. Richard Gere wants Claire Danes to know just how horrible the world is that she's soon to enter, and in order for us to get what she's going through, the movie puts us through it, too. It can be hard to stomach, but it's refreshing to see a Hollywood movie do this. It reminded me of Se7en and 8mm in that way. Still, it's hard to like, and it might wrap things up a little too conveniently.

I enjoyed seeing Richard Gere as this horribly scarred man on a mission. It was a change of pace for him, and he was quietly frightening as a case worker for the department of human services who believes a recently kidnapped girl is the victim of one of the pedophiles he has to monitor.

Claire Danes was great, too, as his protege, who must learn the ropes in a matter of a few weeks. They were really good together. I've never really been into movie-actor Claire Danes and still can't help seeing her now and forever as Angela Chase. But in this I really saw what the big deal is about her. She reminds me of Gwyneth at times, though without the silver-spoon iciness that makes it hard to believe her as edgy and damaged (sorry Gwyneth, but still I love you anyway). Claire Danes just has a real stare in her eyes, a hardness about her, and she was able to play on that here.

The bad guys, though... bit too James Patterson, as Steve noted. The kidnapping ring resembled Kiss the Girls, and the twist was less a twist and more an inevitability. It was nonetheless disturbing. I think maybe the final scenes with the face-licking was slightly over the top, and the timing of all involved was rather convenient, but the point was made. There is an element to society that most of us would rather ignore than confront head-on. Gere's character, at one point, screams at a room full of sex offenders in therapy: "You made me waste my life!" And there's probably the most interesting layer of this story. Not only is the bad element out there, there are also people who spend their lives alongside them, whether tracking them, monitoring them, or assisting in their (so-called) reform.

This movie makes its point well. It's a hard road getting there, though. You might need to wash afterwards.


STEVE says:
Yeah, Nikki pretty much summed it up for us both, there: part Se7en, part 8mm, part Kiss the Girls and part Silence of the Lambs. I'm sure I could throw a few more titles in there if I looked at it again - but I don't want to, at least not for a while.

And that's not to say The Flock is derivative, necessarily - the themes in these movies will crop up again and again as this archetype is explored. You just don't expect to find so many of them in one place, is all.