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Camera-Obscura

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195 reviews in total 
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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Suspense and surveillance, 8 April 2007

A somewhat over-plotted spy thriller by the French master of suspense Henri-Georges Clouzot, that features spies from different countries converging on a psychiatric clinic, run by doctor Malik (Gerard Sety), who is offered a substantial sum of money to shelter a new patient that happens to be an atomic scientist. Soon, the hospital beds are filled with international spies all desperate after the information the patient holds.

Just about everything in this espionage tale is open to question, with its wildly imaginative insinuations of nuclear devices, Amerian and Soviet secret agents and crackpot taxi drivers, doctors and patients. This film certainly has its moments, but is a little uneven and anyone familiar with Clouzot's work, knows this one is not strictly for laughs. It's all meticulously scripted, but is just a taut long (137 minutes) and soon becomes such an impenetrable puzzle, it's hard to keep track of the proceedings, but the film benefits from a good international cast, including Peter Ustinov (SPARTACUS, TOPKAPI, DEATH ON THE NILE), Curd Jürgens (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, THE LONGEST DAY), Sam Jaffe (BEN HUR) and Vera Clouzot (LES DIABOLIQUES).

Not without interest, but ultimately, the elements just don't glue together that well, with rather unsatisfactory results.

Camera Obscura --- 6/10

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Interesting early mix of Gothic and Giallo elements, 3 April 2007

THE THIRD EYE (Mino Guerrini - Italy 1965).

This interesting little chiller by Mino Guerrini, starring Franco Nero and Erika Blanc, certainly was much better than I expected. Often categorized as an early Giallo, it's actually more of a mix of Gothic horror and some Giallo elements. Definitely not the six-penny quickie, I expected. It's quite an elaborate production, well-shot, with fine acting and cinematography.

Franco Nero is Mino, a young count who lives with his dominant mother and jealous servant Martha in an isolated mansion in the Italian countryside. Like Anthony Perkins in PSYCHO - with which this film shares quite a few parallels - Mino has a fascination with birds, particularly stuffed birds. A few days before his marriage with the young and beautiful Laura (Erika Blanc), she mysteriously dies in a car crash and soon-after, his mother is killed. Mino begins to lose his sanity and starts luring young women into his mansion in order to kill them, together with his willing accomplice Martha, who secretly loves him, but one day, a young woman visits him who looks just like his late fiancée Laura.

Although the "Count gone mad scenario" was already a bit over-used by the time the film was made, the (then) contemporary setting, the murder mystery angle, elegant production design, professional cinematography and more than adequate direction, make this one well worth a look and definitely a cut above the average attempt within European genre-film-making, to say the least. The film is also surprisingly candid in its sexual nature (although complete nudity is absent) and, regarding that aspect, is a typical exponent of the transitional period in the mid-sixties. Fans of Franco Nero might wanna take a look at him in a role as a neat, well-dressed and impeccably coiffured young man, quite the contrast to the sweaty, unshaven Django-look, or generally sleazy look, he would cultivate later in his career.

The film was remade as BURIED ALIVE (1978), the gore classic by Joe D'Amato.

Currently only available in German, but with the DVD-age already coming to a close, it's unlikely that this film will ever see an English-language release, so the German-only version is perhaps something even English speaking fans of obscure Italian cinema should consider.

Camera Obscura --- 7/10

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Decidedly mediocre Italo-crime flick., 28 March 2007

THE LAST ROUND (Stelvio Massi - Italy 1976).

This moderately entertaining crime thriller by Stelvio Massi is pretty much a violent updating of YOYIMBO (1962) or A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). Star of the show is former middle-weight boxing champion Carlos Monzón, a drifter who arrives in town looking for a job, but doesn't seem entirely serious about his future and starts looking for trouble immediately. Within ten minutes, he wipes the floor with a whole gang of motley henchmen at the gates of some factory where he wanted to apply for a job. Apparently, they don't like Southerners (he just arrived from Sicily) and turned him down (at the gates, the old days). This scene provides the viewer with some social commentary as well, stating it's not good when people are turned down because they look a bit scruffy or come from the South. Some other workers claim the union should put a stop to this and that it's not right banging up poor workers for no reason. Damn right they are. Turns out the owner of the factory in question is Gino Manzetti (Luc Merenda), who also happens to be the head of a murderous crime ring and a pretty good shot as well, we learn later on the film. Now, Carlos Monzón starts working for him, but plays out every bad guy in town in the process, or something.

Carlos Monzón is not the greatest of actors, to put it mildly. He is clearly there for his ... well, physique, or his fighting skills, or probably both, but he got what it takes to kick some serious ass, but after a while he kind of bored me. Director Stelvio Massi knows how to stage some effective slow-motion fight scenes. Problem is, the story is not very original and after 50 minutes or so, the film kind of lost my attention. It's attractively shot and starts out well, but the story loses much of its momentum halfway when the promising plot is dropped almost completely, with the second half of the film consisting of an endless array of nightly shootouts, fight scenes and lots of skulking in the dark between the various parties involved. Practically the entire second half of the film is devoted to a seemingly endless showdown between all kinds of rival factions whose interests were completely beyond my grasp. But, perhaps that's just me.

One thing I will remember about this charade is the score. No Shame's release came with a separate CD containing some seriously groovy tracks, that I've been playing in my car for the last week. Pretty funky. We also get an extensive 37 minute interview with Luc Merenda by some boot-licking Italian guy, which consists of an extensive tour of his Paris-based antique shop and a mere 5 minutes or so about his films.

Camera Obscura --- 6/10

Patterns (1956)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Company politics, 23 March 2007

This is prime hard-edged drama about greed, personal integrity and abuse of power in corporate America with Van Heflin as Fred Staples, a modest engineer, brought in from Ohio to serve at the company's head office in New York. Everett Sloane is the company head who runs the firm like a tyrant and wants to shove an older and morally conscious executive, William Briggs (Ed Begley) out of the company in favour of young and upcoming Heflin, who is unknowingly put forward as his replacement.

Perhaps the film doesn't offer a highly cinematic experience and betrays its television play origins as it hardly ever leaves the interior of the office with most of the action taking place in the executive chambers, but Rod Serling's superior writing and the universally excellent performances by a veteran cast elevate this far above the average.

Troma's Roan Group released the film on DVD, that includes an awkward introduction of the film by New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick, while he is standing in front of a large Troma Poster(!) in what looks like a theater lobby, looking distinctly uneasy, like Lloyd Kaufman is pointing a gun at his head off screen. In addition, we get Lloyd Kaufman interviewing director Vincent Sherman, who was blacklisted after the McCarthy hearings, but after a few "questions" Kaufman takes over and starts railing incoherently against the modern depiction of business in Hollywood and how he's unable to get a screen anywhere for his Troma films. He even compares his current position in American cinema with that of blacklisted directors in the McCarthy era! Now Lloyd, thanks for bringing this great film to wider audiences, but these remarks - especially while interviewing a man like Vincent Sherman - are truly off the mark.

Camera Obscura --- 8/10

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Extremely violent Italo-German police thriller, 23 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

BLOODY Friday (Rolf Olsen - West Germany/Italy 1972).

A brutal police and hostage thriller by prolific German director Rolf Olsen, mostly active in the field of second-rate comedies, typically German "report" films about prostitution in Hamburg and Frankfurt, sleazy exploitation and even Mondo-style films like ON THE REEPERBAHN AT HALF PAST MIDNIGHT (1969) and SHOCKING ASIA (1974). Unsurprisingly, since this is a German-Italian co-production, the film is not unlike the numerous Italian crime films made at the time, although the film is set entirely in Germany. I don't wanna sound dismissive of Italian film-making with their often wildly overwrought, convoluted plots, entertaining in its own right, but in this case Germans get involved, and somehow logic seeps into the plot, a rarity in most Italian films of its type.

Supposedly, the film is based on a brutal bank robbery on August 4th 1971 of a branch office of the "Deutsche Bank" in the Prinzregenten Street in Munich, or is at least a reference to the explosive increase in violent bank robberies and rampant left-wing political violence in Federal Republic at the time. Either way, this is clear-cut piece of exploitation, but a pretty good one with Raimund Harnstorf dominating the screen as Heinz Klett, a fierce-looking red-bearded giant, well over six feet tall, clad in leather, and resorting to violence at the slightest incentive. He makes a plan to hold up the "Finanzbank" with his accomplice Luigi (Gianni Macchia), his pregnant girlfriend Heidi (Christine Böhm) and her reluctant brother (Amadeus August) and flee to Australia with the proceeds. The hold-up quickly deteriorates into a hostage situation, resulting in some horrendous bloodshed. An extremely unnerving scene takes place during the robbery, when a child gets hold of a dropped grenade outside the bank. An officer tries to grab it, but the pin is pulled just before he can throw himself onto the grenade, resulting in another blood-soaked scene with the man screaming in agony as he desperately tries to hold his erupted intestines.

For its low budget, it's a pretty good effort, with a good cast, a reasonably tense and entertaining storyline and some truly kick-in-the-face violence. The plot might be a bit too predictable, but the pace is brisk, with constantly changing scenarios like a the opening criminal breakout, weapons siege, bank robbery, hostages, some exciting pursuits with the cops and the final shoot-out. Leading man Raimund Harmstorf, who committed suicide at the age of 57 in May 1999, after hearing he had Parkinson's disease, will go down in my book as one of the most memorable bad guys in European cinema. Pretty frightening.

Camera Obscura --- 7/10

25 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
Clever idea and good fun, 21 March 2007
8/10

FOREVER NEVER ANYWHERE (Antonin Svoboda - Austria 2007).

Seen at the IFF Rotterdam, 3 February 2007.

The set-up is simple: Three men get into an accident with their car on a deserted mountain road when they try to avoid hitting a woman who is jogging there in the middle of the night. The car gets off the road, rolls of the mountain until it dashes against a tree. Problem is: they can't get out. The car is an armoured Mercedes, that used to belong to former Austrian president Kurt Waldheim, bought by one of them at a bargain price. But now, the electric doors and windows won't open and they're stuck. Filled with brash and lowbrow humour, and with its single set-up of three men stuck in the small confined space of a car, it's surprisingly entertaining. The film takes an even more bizarre twist when suddenly the three men become the subject of a young boy who starts using these men as live guinea pigs, instead of rescuing them.

Since I couldn't find this one anywhere on IMDb, I gathered it went ahead under a different title, but apparently it was added quite recently under its German title IMMER NIE AM MEER. However, the English title FOREVER NEVER ANYWHERE must be one of the worst I've come across in a long time, but don't let that fool you. This Austrian comedy is good fun and was received with almost constant laughter during its screening in the Netherlands, but festival audiences do tend to be a little more acceptant than most..

With its micro-budget and basically one outdoor location, this film shows that one can make an interesting film when starting with an original idea, convincing acting, humor and some clever plot twists. I had a perfectly good time watching this.

Camera Obscura --- 8/10

7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Stunningly nasty hostage thriller by Umberto Lenzi, 20 March 2007

ALMOST HUMAN (Umberto Lenzi - Italy 1974.

I had missed out far too long on Umberto Lenzi's best known crime flick, which is hands down one of the best poliziotesschi I've seen so far, almost on par with the best of Fernando Di Leo's work, together with Lenzi one of the more prolific directors within the genre. Whilst generally acknowledged to be one of the better Italian crime flicks, Lenzi's somewhat ham-fisted approach to his gialli, had made me a little reluctant to catch up with any of his other work. Although Lenzi's own VIOLENT NAPLES is also a well-made, highly effective genre entry, this one comes close to beating out that one when it comes to sheer brutality and an almost unbelievable barrage of nasty violence.

A rarity in most Italian crime thrillers, this film benefits enormously from an intriguing and woefully ambivalent central character, played with tremendous vigour by Tomas Milian, who plays Guillio Sacchi, a violent low life scumbag with no regard for human life at all and with a real penchant for torture and rape. The other side of the law is represented by stone-faced Henry Silva, who switches to playing a cop this time, instead of his usual turn as the calculating crime kingpin. The story by Ernesto Gastaldi is simplicity itself and doesn't take all kinds of distracting side-roads that make many other genre efforts so forgettable in that department. Anyway, if you're still in doubt about the merits of Italo-crime flicks, watch this one. An intriguing story, Tomas Milian in a great role and Ennio Morricone contributes another impressive soundtrack what must be one of his most recognizable scores this side from Sergio Leone. I keep wondering if the members of the Academy, who recently honoured Morricone with the honorary Oscar, had any idea what kind of films the maestro generally got involved in.

Camera Obscura --- 9/10

Time Out (2001)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Highly nuanced psychological thriller, 20 March 2007

TIME OUT (Laurent Cantet - France 2001).

The English language title Time Out is not entirely fitting. Perhaps Time Running Out would be a more appropriate title, since this is exactly what Vincent, the main character, is going through.

Vincent (Aurélien Recoing) is a highly motivated financial consultant. Or, at least, that's what he used to be. Fact of the matter is, he lost his job three months ago and now concocts an elaborate facade to cover up the fact he is now unemployed. While his wife, Muriel (Karin Viard), thinks he's at work, Vincent is aimlessly roaming the highways, hanging out at rest stops, and sleeping in his car, regularly calling his wife to give her an update about his next meeting and apologizing for coming home late, before turning in for his overnight stay in his car. Vincent lives like a ghost, increasingly detached from his wife, children and former colleagues, he doesn't seem to realize the truth is closing in. One day, they will find out. But Vincent has gotten to a point where he's constructed his own dream world. He resorts to reading all kinds of economic pamphlets about his apparent line of business, studying and memorizing them like he really is active in this line of work. As Vincent needs money, he makes up a plan to defraud old friends and his parents out of their savings by letting them in on some bogus investment scheme. He conducts his business out of a hotel lounge, where he catches the eye of Jean-Michel (Serge Livrozet, a brilliant role), a "real" , experienced operator who immediately recognizes Vincent is a fraud. He offers Vincent a job in his own operation, meaning some extra pocket money and perhaps even a way out of his increasingly sticky situation.

Director Cantet's style is distinctly unflashy. Set against the wintry landscapes of Rhône-Alpes around Grenoble and Annecy, the film makes very good use of its locations. Whether it's the bland office complexes in the "zones commerciales" at the outskirts of anonymous towns, or the snow-clad mountains surrounding them, it seems to blend perfectly with the film's tone. Accompanied by a beautiful classical score, Cantet shows himself a remarkably sharp and observant storyteller. Although the film maintains interest throughout, the running time of 132 minutes did seem a tad long, and Vincent's lengthy economic arguments when conning his friends and relatives (some of them business men themselves) out of their money weren't terribly convincing. His arguments range from unconvincing to downright nonsense. At least he would'n have convinced me, but even my 91 year old grandmother wouldn't have bought any of this for a moment. But, some of these inconsistencies aside, this is a skilfully constructed film and an engrossing psychological drama that slowly unfolds like a thriller with a brilliant performance by Aurélien Recoing to top it off.

Camera Obscura --- 8/10

20 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
Superb human drama, 19 March 2007

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (Jacques Audiard - France 2005).

It's usually the other way round, but this time the French took a shot at remaking an American film, James Toback's FINGERS (1978), which starred Harvey Keitel. And the result is excellent. This riveting human drama by Jacques Audiard features an impressive performance by Romain Duris as Tom, a 28 year-old hoodlum who seems destined to follow in his father's footsteps as a property shark working in a sleazy, barely legal twilight zone of the dodgy Parisian real-estate world. But a chance encounter with a former music teacher leads him to believe that he can become, like his mother, a concert pianist. With the help of a young virtuoso pianist, who just arrived from China, he starts preparing for a crucial audition, but soon the pressures from his former pals mount and he gets trapped between two opposite worlds. But Tom is not just a sensible artistic young man desperately trying to escape the world he lives in. He's not entirely sure he wants to leave his old life behind him. He's got a mean streak and when necessary, he takes care of some unresolved matters using whatever means he deems appropriate to take care of unwilling partners, squatters or whoever gets in the way of his (or his father's business interests), really putting the squeeze on people unwilling to cooperate.

Romain Duris injects his role with an enormous amount of vibrancy and energy. I've never seen Duris in another role before, but his character is complex, perennially nervous, strained, angry, but incredibly charming. One moment he's in leather jacket, wiping the blood of his face after a little bashing with some squatters. The next, he's in suit and tie and negotiates with real-estate moguls. The film's atmosphere is dark, moody and downbeat, but Tom's vibrant energy and aggression firmly keeps the viewer's attention. Jacques Audiard's direction is remarkable assured. He seems to know exactly what he wants to present on the screen, never showy and a keen camera eye to give the already top-notch performances maximum impact. What's so refreshing, is that the film doesn't make a big point out of the human relationships. It never becomes overly sentimental, but at the same time all these characters are real and completely believable, just incredibly vivid characterizations. Sharply written, stylish, expertly paced, directed and performed, this is definitely one to catch.

Camera Obscura --- 9/10

Scratch (2001)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Now, who's the king of digging?, 17 March 2007

The omission of Jazzy Jeff, the creator of the chirp and transformer scratch, raised a few eyebrows, but it's good to see he made it to the extras of the DVD after all. With SCRATCH, Doug Pray, who previously chronicled the grunge phenomenon of the '90s in HYPE (1996), made an excellent documentary about the world of the hip-hop DJ and the evolution of turntablism. His latest documentary, INFAMY (2005), explores contemporary American graffiti culture. After a couple of viewings four years ago, my DVD had been gathering dust ever since, but recently I watched it again and besides the subject material, I was surprised how well-shot and edited this documentary actually is. An immensely enjoyable soundtrack as well and not just talking heads, but lots of music, old school footage, parties, break dancing, you name it. One of the best things about the film, is that it mainly examines where the art of turntablism is today (in 2001 that is), without disregarding the pioneers of course. Good stuff.

Camera Obscura --- 8/10


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