Phenomena 4K UHD Review: Always Room for Giallo

Dario Argento’s 1985 horror film starring pre-Labyrinth Jennifer Connelly is a treat on 4K UHD. The green hillside and rushing river looks like National Geographic nature footage. 

Argento’s closeups of eyes and lips are even more intense in 4K. When light shines on Connelly as her hair blows in the wind, she practically glows, a look captured in the packaging artowrk. 

But it’s Argento so it’s not all pretty. The maggot infested skull, muddy pit and all the insects have spared no gory detail. The chimpanzee’s big pink butt stands out too, 

The sound is either mono or stereo, but it will sound good in a nice sounder setup. 

A comparison of the three different cuts is helpful but I have to disagree with the critique of the Creepers cut. All due respect to Argento, but the tight cut moves. The slow burn is fine but Creepers is hardly a hatchet job. It’s not a Once Upon a Time in America or Brazil situation. 

Author Derek Botello gives a commentary on the international cut. Botello digs into the Argento family and other movies, and a moderator keeps it moving. They also suggest Creepers is harder to follow and that’s inflating the directors cut a bit. It’s clear in Creepers too

The two hour documentary Of Flies and Maggots from 2017 lives up to its name because it goes in depth about the flies and maggots. If you ever wondered how they worked with insects before CGI, you’ll learn, as well as pre-CGI camera effects.

It includes some archival materials like Argento in 1984 talking film stock and equipment, behind the scenes shots of the crane shot intercut with the shot in the film, mechanical effects and the bee. 

It gives Fiore Argento time to share all her experience. Stories of chimpanzee trainer beating him for misbehaving are not great. 

The Jennifer music video is in VHS quality like old MTV but it is a compelling silent Connelly performance.

The commentary by Troy Howarth on the integral cut is both informative on the film’s background and a solid aesthetic critique of the film’s strengths and weaknesses. Howarth keeps it consistent throughout the two hour cut, too. 

Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History Book Review

Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual HistoryLast year I discovered Back to the Future: The Ultimate visual History, a book which surprised even me, and I thought I knew everything about those movies. Certainly I must know everything about my all time favorite movie, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, but once again the new 30th anniversary coffee table book Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History told me new stories from the history of my favorite film.

My favorite part of these books is the script development, learning all the other forms the story could have taken. All of the decisions were right but there were some interesting alternate angles. Labyrinth began as a medieval fantasy which would’ve removed some of the magic of a modern girl being in the fantasy realm. Terry Jones’ contributions were interesting but more intensely focused on a theme of growing up and hard adult realities. There are hints of that theme still there but I imagine Henson was the type to champion never completely “growing up.” Jareth’s role also got larger once they realized they could get a rock star and he should be a main character.Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History

Each character from Labyrinth warrants his or her own chapter due to the unique techniques employed to bring them to life. No two puppets were the same. They created individual designs based on what the character would have to do.

Auhors Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann find quotes from Henson and Bowie during the production of Labyrinth. They interviewed Jennifer Connelly for the book but also compared her comments then and now, plus new interviews with all of the puppeteers, including future Elmo creator Kevin Clash.Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History

The photos are beautiful. As much as I’ve seen behind the scenes stills from Labyrinth, the glossy detail of puppeteering technique in progress makes these shots worth framing.

Aesthetically, I would say there are too many loose pages attached to pages in the book. The reader has no choice but to gently remove these attachments to read the book. Since they’re all duplicates anyway, they would be better as an appendix. It is wonderful to read Jim Henson’s own words as he communicates to his staff, even mentioning some projects that never got completed. I’m just saying reproductions of those in the back of the book would be just as good since they’re not scene specific.

But that’s the critic in me feeling pressure to give a balanced evaluation of Labyrinth: The Complete Visual History. I loved reading about the development and production of Labyrinth and looking at all the pictures of Jim Henson and David Bowie at work.

Aloft Review: The Faith Healing Falconer Movie Of The Year

Aloft is the faith healing falconer with mommy issues movie of the year. I’m not saying it’s the best faith healing falconer with mommy issues movie ever, but it’s definitely top five. Sometimes when I do that bit it’s to celebrate a movie with an outrageously specific premise. Usually it’s to point out how inaccessible the film is, and unfortunately Aloft is the latter.

Nana (Jennifer Connelly) and her songs Ivan (Zen McGrath) and Gully (Winta McGrath) travel with a group to The Architect’s healing shack. The Architect only chooses one kid out of the whole bunch to heal anyway, and it’s not Gully. Ivan still ruins it for the chosen kid because his falcon tears through the thatch hut where the healing takes place. You see, Ivan is a budding young falconer, because of course he is.

I’m sorry to sound so dismissive. Surely this was written and brought to screen because at least one writer/director believes in the healing power of belief and the chaotic anarchy of nature. It is still incumbent on said filmmaker to make those images compelling to nonbelievers. There are plenty of brilliant movies about subjects we would otherwise never consider in real life.

The big thing is why the f*** do they have to bring their f***ing falcon on this trip? However bad Gully’s health is, however obscure and out of the way The Architect is, they couldn’t leave the God damn bird home for one weekend? We’re all sensitive when animals come into harm’s way, but let’s hold the pet owners responsible for bringing their animals into wildly inappropriate situations. I wouldn’t take my cat skydiving. Cats are for home, although now I’m picturing Tippi in a parachute. Yes, birds fly in the wild, but again: faith healing thatch hut.

Aloft jumps 20 years ahead to when Ivan is grown up (Cillian Murphy) with a family of his own and no relationship with his mother, but still a falconer. When reporter Jannia Ressmore (Melanie Laurent) pressures him to help her set up a meeting with Nana, Ivan grudgingly obliges as we intercut past and present to learn what really drove them apart after the falcon incident.

We are introduced to some of Ivan’s fears, then illuminated on what caused those fears via flashback. We learn more about Nana and only then do Jannia’s true intentions come to light. That’s volatile when it’s August Osage County, and it’s a dysfunctional family that can bear a few shocking twists in an otherwise relatable context. Aloft expects us to know birds and holistic healing techniques intuitively by sight.

While there’s merit to not spoon feeding and holding the audience’s hands, these are pretty niche topics. Some effort should have been made to make them more universally identifiable.  Or at least make them seem awesome. If falconing were presented as a majestic practice, we’d totally be on Ivan’s side. It’s only taken for granted as something he does and should do because why are you questioning Ivan, Fred?

Also, let’s just say it. “The Falconer” was a Saturday Night Live sketch. I’d sooner take an edgy dramatic version of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer seriously.  The gritty serious reboot team-up of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and Goat Boy, let’s make that happen, Hollywood.

Rating: Wait For Cable