The Red Queen Kills Seven Times 1972 ****

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‘Even the police know I’m an incredible nymphomaniac!’ is a good sample line from Emilio Miraglia’s wonderfully overcooked giallo, which keeps one guessing by being so nutty that placing a bet on who-dunnit is all but impossible. Barbara Bouchet is Kitty, one of two sisters (Marina Malfatti is the other, Franziska) who have been brought up to fear a family curse that may lead to murder; a flashback reveals that Kitty already has reasons to feel guilt. The death of their grandfather promises a liquidation of finances and potential windfalls for all of the Wildenbrück family, but his will proves inconclusive. The action shifts to a successful fashion house which seems to be called Springe; Kitty is having an affair with the company’s boss Martin (Ugo Pagliali) whose wife is mentally ill. With various murders taking place, could the supernatural Red Queen be taking her revenge on the family, or is the solution something more practical? The real solution is so complicated that even several readings of the Wikipedia page fail to clarify exactly what happened, but it’s fun getting there; the costumes and décor are super-stylish, as are the Bavarian locations. This is a lively giallo, full of twists and turns, never boring and often intriguing; the great Sybill Danning also appears as a windfall bonus.

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Suspiria 2018 ***

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Not exactly here in terms of merit as a good film, Suspiria is at least a memorable piece of horror cinema. Dario Argento’s original film is stylish but stabby and incoherent; Luca Guadagnino’s much anticipated remake seems intent on turning the original film inside out, and as an act of deconstruction, it’s not without interest. Dakota Fanning arrives at Tilda Swinton’s dance school, only to find a coven of witches are using it was a front. The punch-line of Argento’s film becomes the jumping off point for Guadagnino, but nearly two and a half hours later, not much of any value has been added to the pot. There’s extreme gore (the final orgy features volcanic blood and bile vomited from innards as heads snap back like Pez dispensers), some political allusions (from Baadar-Meinhoff terrorists to WWII concentration camps) which don’t really help, and a smattering of indelible images, like the table of aging witches at the back of a restaurant, or the execution by dance of one of the pupils. Its hard to know what those unaware of the original film will make of this; Argento purists probably deserve to be annoyed, but at least this Suspiria isn’t some bland PG 13 remake for teens; in fact, it really is quite horrible to watch, and presumably that’s the intention.

One, Two, Three 1961 ****

Billy Wilder’s touch came and went; not all of his comedies sit well today, as only the best in humour stands the test of time. One, Two, Three was a flop in 1961, out of step with public interest, but it’s now clear that it’s Wilder at his best. James Cagney plays C.R. MacNamara, the manager of the US Coca-Cola operation in Berlin, a city still divided into East and West. When his boss sends his daughter over for a few months, MacNamara rises to the challenge of keeping the girl out of trouble, but the day before his boss arrives to collect her, the girl vanishes, only to reappear married and pregnant.  Despite a two-hour plus running time, One Two Three plays as a farce at breakneck speed, with Cagney ripping through his dialogue with real verve. There’s wonderful touches, like the secretary performing as a dancing girl to charm Russian businessmen, the vibrations of her dancing on the table causing a huge Communist portrait to fall off the wall, the photo of Khrushchev revealed to be plastered over an image of Stalin. References to John F Kennedy and the pop-music of the day are knowing but not overplayed. There’s a reason why Billy Wilder and screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond are regarded as all-time greats when it comes to wit; there’s an edge to the jokes about Germany’s past which, given that Wilder would later flirt with making Schindler’s List, indicate a pointed and political political point of view. Music by Andre Pervin.

https://archive.org/details/OneTwoThree1961

Victoria 2015 *****

victoriaAnyone who ever feels bored with cinema should give Victoria a look; it’s an adrenalin shot of a kind that’s never been achieved before. Sebastian Schipper’s film was shot in one take, and lasts over two and a half hours. It’s not an art movie but a heist story in a Michael Mann vein; Victoria (Laia Costa) falls in with a group of local criminals after a night out, and gets involved in a robbery that goes wrong with deadly consequences. The gang’s leader, Sonne, is played by Frederick Lau with a Brando-esque intensity that should break him as an international star. Schipper keeps the action moving after a slow start, and Victoria somehow manages to be more than the sum of its parts. The sheer rush of watching the actors play out the drama in real time matches the desperate energy of the heist, and the result is a hyper-real thriller that leaves you shattered and moved. A one-off, Victoria is the kind of film that it’s a pleasure to stumble upon; it’s recommended viewing for anyone open to the possibilities of cinema at its best.

Jesus Christ Savior 2008 ***

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Klaus Kinski was, without much doubt, a genuinely unhinged individual, capable of brilliant on-screen performances and with a somewhat dubious off-screen life that’s been well documented in several books. This documentary is a record of a live 1970’s stage performance given by Kinski in a packed theatre where he gives an astonishing, ranting performance that quickly turns into a screaming match between him and the audience. A spoken word piece from the point of view was always going to be controversial, but Peter Geyer’s assembly of archive footage depicts a man at the end of his tether, a horrifying but hypnotic document of Kinski at his best and worst.

 

Mephisto 1981 ***

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Hungarian director Istvan Szabo won an Oscar for this mesmerizing drama from 1981, powered by an extraordinary performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer as Hendrick, a German actor playing the role of Faust in the period between the wars. Such success at a time of historical change involves a deal with the devil, and Szabo’s adaptation of Klaus Mann’s 1936 novel captures the moral torment of a performer who realizes that his success is at the expense of his own sense of self. Mephisto has the same sense of divine decadence as Cabaret, and explores the contradictions of on and off-stage performance with real gravity. Topped with a breath-taking final shot, Mephisto is one of the greatest unseen films; a curious footnote is that, like Hendrick, Brandauer’s career peaked earlier than he would have liked.