Archives for posts with tag: Italians

Cat Creature

The Cat Creature (1973) ****

A suspenseful TV movie with a solid genre pedigree, The Cat Creature was written by Psycho novelist Robert Bloch and directed by Curtis Harrington, whose previous forays into horror included the Shelley Winters classics What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972). The Cat Creature‘s hokey but involving story melds elements from old standards Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), and Cat People (1942), for a film that reverentially prowls familiar territory, but also marks it with a distinctive musk.

A young Meredith Baxter stars as Rena, a shy woman who takes a job working for sinister Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard) in her occult curiosity shop in Hollywood, catering to dykes, eccentrics, and satanic dilettantes. Things seem to be going well for her until a police detective (Stuart Whitman) comes to question her about a missing Egyptian amulet and drops the bombshell that her predecessor jumped to her death from a balcony.

People have been succumbing to strange, cat-related deaths ever since a “part-time handyman, full-time wino”, and burglar (Kung Fu‘s Keye Luke) stole the amulet from a mummy’s coffin. Meanwhile, the police have brought in a charming archaeologist (David Hedison), who hopes to put the moves on Rena while also solving the mystery of the amulet and all the horrible catty crimes associated with its discovery. Will the professor be able to figure it all out before more are murdered and Rena falls prey to an ancient and evil Egyptian agenda?

The Cat Creature is a relatively classy (albeit low-budget) affair until a high-camp climactic twist knocks it straight into the gonzosphere. Laughable ending notwithstanding, the film has enough going for it to warrant horror aficionados’ attention. The future hippie mother of Alex P. Keaton looks sweet and innocent enough to munch, while Whitman lends the film some weight with his usual air of cool, haggard authority and experience. John Carradine also has a cameo appearing alongside a drunk midget whore.

4 out of 5 stars.

Manhattan Baby poster

Manhattan Baby (1982) ***1/2

This Poltergeist-inspired spaghetti chiller has a reputation as something of a bastard stepchild among the works of gore specialist Lucio Fulci. This is unsurprising, considering that most of the movie is bloodless and comes up short in the scares department. However, for those who appreciate the director more for his stylistic tendencies – his unsubtle closeups, languid pacing, tedium punctuated with shrill hysterics, and spacy evocations of vague sensations and dreamlike states of being – Manhattan Baby finds the master mining the mother lode. Great gore there is, though, particularly toward the end, when a flock of taxidermied birds spring to life and swoop into ravenous action, pecking and ripping some sad Italian greaseball to shreds.

What plot there is concerns an archaeologist (Christopher Connelly) whose daughter becomes possessed by something evil in Egypt after receiving an amulet from a blind beggar woman in a desolate square; but Manhattan Baby is less concerned with plot points or logic than with atmospherics and strange set pieces, sometimes seeming less like a narrative feature than a series of otherworldly, disconnected episodes. Certainly, this one is going to be a difficult sell to anyone other than devoted Lucio Fulci fans and hardcore Italo-horror buffs, who will also enjoy the sight of familiar faces like Connelly (Raiders of Atlantis), child actor Giovanni Frezza (The House by the Cemetery), and Fulci himself in a cameo. Anybody who does have a taste for such fare, however, really does need to see the aforementioned scene of the man-eating birds.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. (Only earning a solid three stars, Manhattan Baby receives an extra charity half-star for featuring blue 80s lasers that zap Christopher Connelly in the eyes.)

don-jon-poster

Jew Joseph Gordon-Levitt has fun pretending to be a dopey blue collar Italian in Don Jon, which the multi-talented actor also scripted and directed. Jon is a bartender and ladies’ man who nonetheless prefers internet pornography to the shapely bimbos he casually beds. But this state of affairs is challenged when Jon falls for oily-lipped Jewish floozy Barbara (real-life oily-lipped and tattooed Jewish floozy Scarlett Johansson), who has the big lug hooked as soon as he lays eyes and hands on her ass. When Barbara disapproves of Jon’s pornography habit, will love be enough to make him kick it? Furthermore, will Jon’s unexpected acquaintance with Esther (Julianne Moore), a complicated and damaged older woman, affect the outcome?

Don Jon is an impressive feature debut for Gordon-Levitt as a writer-director, but the cast is what really makes it pop. Gordon-Levitt, light years from 3rd Rock from the Sun, has emerged as one of the most compelling leading men of his day, while Johansson, in addition to being a natural at playing the tramp, gives ample evidence of the electric power that was always present behind her exotic looks. Tony Danza, proving that there may yet be life after Who’s the Boss?, delivers a rowdy performance suggesting he could enjoy a late-career renaissance as a high-voltage character actor. (Scenes around the boisterous family dinner table may put some viewers in mind of the Maneros in Saturday Night Fever.) Moore is bizarre and cries as usual, while pretty Brie Larson is enigmatic in her mostly silent role as Jon’s younger sister, Monica.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt betrays a contempt for the conventional happy Hollywood ending, a bias he actually inserts into his character’s dialogue; but if Don Jon has an Achilles heel, it is its insistence on insulting and abandoning the traditional audience expectations of how a romantic comedy ought to develop and blossom. Don Jon, consequently, fails to satisfy precisely to the degree that it deviates from the time-tested narrative structure. One suspects that Gordon-Levitt may have been influenced in his decision to consciously disappoint his audience by an admiration for Woody Allen’s dramedies of the 70s and 80s, films like Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters, which end in messy non-resolutions which nonetheless satisfy. Before he experiments, however, Gordon-Levitt is hereby advised to be patient and master the traditional forms.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Don Jon is:

11. Un-p.c. In one of his bouts of road rage, Jon yells that another driver is “retarded”. See also no. 7.

10. Drug-ambivalent. Weed is okay, but crack and heroin are referenced derogatorily.

9. Crypto-corporate. Don Jon ostensibly criticizes commercial culture, but works in product placement for Swiffer, Coke, Carl’s Jr, and Hardee’s.

8. Class-conscious. Barbara, who has a cleaning lady, is disturbed to learn that Jon mops his own floors. She also demands that he go to night school, the vague idea being that Jon ought to be moving up in the world somehow.

7. Sexist! Jon and his buddies argue about whether or not a nightclub cutie is a “dime”, i.e., a ten. Women are, for the most part, treated as sex objects, and also present themselves that way.

6. Anti-Christian. Jon’s religion is a matter of empty ritual, with a crucifix, for instance, dangling impotently from his rear-view mirror as he curses at other drivers. He regularly reports in the confessional how many times he has masturbated or fornicated out of wedlock, but then casually goes about his business with no intention of changing his ways. The priest, for his part, sounds uninterested, prescribing his Hail Marys with robotic boredom. A montage irreverently juxtaposes the collection plate with the confessional. One church scene cuts directly to Jon’s father (Danza) exclaiming, “Holy shit!”

5. Pro-wigger. Jon calls his car his “ride”, etc. His and other young singles’ idea of rug-cutting is basically a vertical lap dance.

4. Multiculturalist, postracial, and pro-miscegenation. Jon’s club-prowling buddies include a token black (Rob Brown) and an indeterminate (Jeremy Luke). Seemingly every sexual coupling in the film is interracial in one way or another.

3. Pro-slut/anti-marriage. The only sexually well-behaved woman in the movie is Jon’s mother (Glenne Headly), who, however, appears to feel somewhat neglected in her marriage. Despite a flippant acknowledgment that “real pussy can kill you”, Jon (along with the film) appears to believe that a condom makes him invincible. Don Jon‘s idea of a girl playing hard-to-get (necessitating “long game”) is Barbara bringing Jon to orgasm by grinding her buttocks against the crotch of his pants instead of actually going to bed with him.

2. Anti-porn. To its credit, Don Jon tackles the very real problem of addiction to internet pornography, a problem which may also contribute to Jon’s difficulty with anger and impulse control behind the wheel.

1. (Ironically) anti-Semitic! Barbara’s genetic impulse to dominate the gentile expresses itself in her controlling approach to her relationship with Jon, her attempted programming of his life, and her surveillance of his computer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has performed a valuable public service in exposing the bitch’s protocols.

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