Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Dario Argento returns to the genre that made him famous, or at least names a standard issue serial killer movie film after that genre . A sexy model is abducted by a disfigured, yellow-skinned, cab-driving psychopath who's been on a kidnapping and killing spree in Italy. Her sister teams up with a police detective (Adrian Brody, who has recently redefined himself as a genre movie actor and somehow still seems like he's slumming it here) to track down the killer before it's too late.

We all know that Argento lost some of the magic that he had in the 70's and 80's and will not get it back. Still, I must say up front that I am still something of an apologist for his latter-day work; I seem to be in the rare minority that thinks 2004's The Card Player was actually pretty good, and that nearly all of his recent movies have, at the very least, worthwhile or redeeming facets. So, your mileage may vary, but I think, despite having an uninspired script and being sued/buried by its star, it's not a godawful tragedy. It mostly entertained me. Brody does fine in a ridiculous role (grizzled Italian cop with a bizarre past, which includes an explanation for why he speaks with an American accent [they never do explain why everyone is Italy is speaking English, though]). There's an acceptable amount of ridiculous violence, a lot of good designer filth set design a la Se7en, and some effective chase and stalk sequences. It also has a great germ of an idea for a dark ending that would leave the audience hanging, but it cop outs on that ending and throws in a pointless, abrupt resolution.

But, what the fuck? He made a movie named Giallo that doesn't really feel like one of his old giallos. I know lately in his career he's softened some of his edges, maybe in effort to play up more of his classy, Hitchcockian side, but this movie has almost no trace of his unique sensibilities. One scene, a dream sequence/flashback, is filmed with a weirdly see-sawing camera, but other than that there are none of the bold, visually baroque touches one normally associates with his films. The plot is straightforward (there's not even a whodunit) and avoids the oddball digressions and dream logic of his best films. And since he doesn't come through with that special Argento magic, it means you won't be as forgiving of the problems here that you'd ignore in his other films: bad acting, plot contrivances, awkward dialogue.

Mother of Tears was a deeply, obviously flawed film, but at least it was unmistakably an Argento film. Giallo seems like it could have been made by, well, more or less anyone who makes low budget thrillers.

Grade: C+


Joseph said...

Well, that's better than I feared. I'd heard a few reviews which described it as pathetic, unintentionally hilarious, etc. I actually am pretty ambivalent towards Argento's Gaillo-type films anyway; Psycho killers don't do much for me as a general rule - I like his surreal nightmare stuff more.

What I was really hoping for with GAILLO was that Argento was going to start trying again. MOTHER OF TEARS has some classic Argento touches but it honestly feels like a film half-directed. Some parts are great, others just feel like they hastily and akwardly shot a dress rehersal while the director was alseep and just edited into the final film by mistake. Obviously, no one's gonna complain about the acting or dialogue, but a good third of the film just looks bad -- ugly, poorly blocked and lit, akwardly staged, etc. But then a few scenes later -- all the suddent Argento seems on his game again, creating inventive, memorable cinema.

So, I was hoping that one was a warm-up to him really getting his mojo back and GAILLO was going to signify a career resurgence.

You know who Argento reminds me of these days? Woody Allen. Both obvious masters who have moments of undeniable greatness in nearly all their movies, but these days just seem too ...tired to really go after those great concepts with the kind of zeal and craftsmanship they once did. You can see it sitting there, within their reach, but they just don't seem to want to go that extra little bit and take it.

Dan said...

I never would have thought of it myself, but the Woody Allen comparison is pretty good. Allen is, I think, more likely to make a really good one these days (Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Whatever Works), but only every few years. In between he wedges in a bunch of crap and mediocrity.

It's like... why do these guys keep churning them out when they clearly don't have the creative drive they once possessed? Being prolific is great when you're young, energetic and full of ideas; not so hot when you're tired and half-assing it.

I think both Allen and Argento could benefit from spending more time developing their ideas, or at least waiting for a great idea to come along, rather than mechanically producing a new film every year or two.

Joseph said...

Actually another thing occurred to me, which is that both also had significant collaborators at the zenith of their careers (in Allen's case, Marshall Brickman and in Argento's case DP Luciano Tovoli and later Michele Soavi) who may in some ways have helped them kind of deepen and explore their unique visions. Recently, both guys seem to have a few distinct parts of a film they want to make, and then the rest of the film seems like barely even an afterthought.

I'm still rooting for Argento to make his MATCH POINT, though. He's 70, but I feel like if he had something that really inspired him to work at it, he's still got a shot at making one last really great one.

He's just got to stop saying "eh, close enough" and get back to striving for excellence. I watched TENEBRAE for the first time last night, and there's this great long uncut (or hidden cut) shot which just sort of hovers around the outside of the house of the two soon-to-be victims. It's not a POV shot, it sort of floats around the two stories of the house peering in the windows, looking for the killer we know is in there as much as looking at the victims. But the thing is -- that shot took a lot of time and effort. It's a big, well-dressed set featuring a long shot requiring cranes, precise coreography inside the house, various lighting dynamics... and why? Because its weird and creepy, that's why. There's nothing in his recent stuff that suggests that kind of energy and attention to detail, sadly. I'd love for him to work with someone who really pushed him to go for it, or got him an idea that really inspired him to go all-out.

Dan said...

Well, as a self-avowe2d Argento apologist, I'd like to note that:

1) The Card Player definitely seems like he was trying. It's not as bizarre or ornate as his classic work, but it's a nicely constructed thriller with some solid set pieces. (And, okay, a terrible ending).

2)Mother of Tears had that long take of Asia Argento running around a spooky old building, that felt like vintage Argento. It wasn't as obviously showy as the shot in Tenebre that you cited, but at least it shows the same sort of initiative.

My guess is you'll probably hate Giallo if you bother with it. Like I was trying to get at in my post, it's just not very Argento-y. It's moderately entertaining as a silly serial killer thriller, but it basically could have been made by any hack filmmaker.