Friday, 11 August 2017

Un Borghese Piccolo Piccolo (1977)

This Italian film, translated as 'An Average Little Man', is relatively unknown and difficult to source, but it is one of those movies that once seen becomes unforgettable. It stars Alberto Sordi, best known as a satiric comedy actor in more than 150 films, who began his career back in the 30s dubbing Oliver Hardy into Italian, and who moved into international recognition with his roles in Fellini's early 50s films "The White Sheik" and "Il Vitelloni". I watched him recently in another little-known Italian flick "The Scopone Game" (1972) co-starring with Bette Davis believe it or not.

Anyhow one might expect yet another comic turn from this versatile actor and the movie certainly begins in that way, but soon moves into the blackest of black tales. Sordi is Giovanni, a Roman government jobsworth, married to hausfrau Amalia (played by Shelley Winters no less), desperate to get his beloved son Mario, newly qualified as an accountant, a coveted post with the government against fierce competition. Giovanni has cosied up to his superiors and has even agreed to join their Masonic Lodge in his attempt to get his son preferential treatment. Mario, a hangdog gormless youth, reminiscent of the young Gene Wilder, is coached, coddled, and blessed by his doting parents, before going off for the final examination. However, as Giovanni escorts his son to the exam venue, they get caught in the crossfire of a bank robbery, and poor Mario is shot dead -- a heap on the pavement with his seven pens spilling from his pocket -- his assassin's smug face burnt into Giovanni's memory.

The news is broadcast on the telly causing Amalia to suffer an irreversible stroke. Giovanni is now faced with both the loss of his beloved son and having to do everything for his helpless wife. When he is brought into police headquarters to identify the culprit in a line-up, he deliberately chooses not to point out the hated face; instead he trails the young man, patiently waits to accost him, knocks him unconscious, and takes him to his country allotment. There he binds the chap with wires and generally abuses him until he dies-- having wheeled in Amalia in her chair to admire his handiwork. The film which began as a jaundiced view of Roman society segues into sub-Tarantino "Reservoir Dogs" torture porn. 

It was really no surprise finding Winters (or Davis for that matter) in an Italian movie, since many fading Hollywood stars found work in the booming European film industry back in the 1970s. Winters made a number of appearances in Italian films, normally dubbed of course; however in this movie little dubbing was needed since she was both paralyzed and mute for most of the story. She did, however, portray her suffering beautifully!

Despite the film's macabre tone, director Mario Monicelli skillfully manages to poke fun at contemporary Roman society's many foibles. Most memorable are Mario's initiation ceremony into the Masons (I have no idea whether the bizarre rituals portrayed are realistic or not) and a scene at the cemetery where Mario's coffin in stacked with hundreds of others -- occasionally exploding -- in a huge warehouse, since there is a shortage of space for new graves.

As for our hero who is of retirement age, he is cut loose to 'enjoy' his retirement, being given the smallest of medals to mark the occasion, and being generally ignored by his erstwhile colleagues. Then Amalia dies. Giovanni is overwhelmed with sadness and despair. What is left for him? Well there are the brash young men that he encounters who remind him of his son's sad fate -- just maybe they deserve punishing as well...

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Lost Fortnight

With my computer dying the death, it's amazing how many films I watched over the last two weeks as compensation. If truth be told there were a few which had totally slipped from my memory (and which I needed to look up on IMDb to refresh myself). Chances are I'll forget them again once today's blog is finished.

Let's save the newish and relatively mainstream ones for last and start with some of the oldies. "London Belongs to Me" (1948) is a lovely ensemble piece most notable for the great Alastair Sim (always watchable) playing a gold-digging phony medium and that late luvvie Richard Attenborough playing a criminal punk. "The Ruthless Four" (1968) -- a spaghetti Western also known as "Every Man for Himself" is worth a watch for pitting old-timers Van Heflin and Gilbert Roland against the young and amoral Klaus Kinski and George Hilton in the search for buried gold. "Salt of the Earth" (1954) has the dubious distinction of being the only movie ever banned in the U.S. It was made by a bunch of blacklisted Hollywood folk documenting a strike by Mexican workers at a New Mexico zinc mine -- and it is now on the National Registry! Then there was "The Devil at Four o'clock" (1961) memorable for starring Spencer Tracy's alcoholic priest with Frank Sinatra's career criminal as they work together to save a bunch of leper kiddies form a Southsea island threatened by an erupting volcano. (No, they don't make them like that anymore).

Then there were the foreign entries. Another oldie "The Devil and the Angel" (1946) with Erich von Stroheim in one of his rare film roles (and in French) as a disfigured forger deeply in love with a blind carnival worker; worth a watch. I caught up with Sky's weekly foreign offerings of which the Swedish flick "The Here After" (1915) was totally depressing and forgettable and the French film "The Connection" (2014) was not even saved by star Jean Dujardin. The French-Canadian "My Internship in Canada" (2015) with a Haitian go-getter acting as an intern in rural Quebec (the only MP who replied to his circular request) was mildly pleasant. Finally. the Russian "I Won't Come Back" (2014) where an ex-orphanage young girl runs away with a 13-year old desperate to reach her grandma in Kazakhstan was both involving and ultimately emotionally devastating.

The less said about the few television movies seen, the better, although one of them "Dreamhouse Nightmare" (2017) aka "Mother of the Year" was much nastier than the usual saccharine run.

I also watched three animations of which the Chinese-made "Unbeatables" (2013) about plastic footballers coming to life was pretty awful. However I found "The Secret Life of Pets" (2016) rather amusing and "Moana" (2016) potentially a Disney classic. I particularly enjoyed the demi-god's (voiced by The Rock) tattoos coming to life on his body -- a bit of hand-drawn animation amongst the computer-generated main.

I'm not sure I have the patience to say much about some of the more recent offerings on Sky. "Breaking the Bank" (2016) set in London has Kelsey Grammer as a pathetic failed banker -- and what kind of demented angel thinks that he can carry a movie nowadays? "A Street Cat Named Bob" (2016) is based on a true story of an ex-druggie redeemed by a stray; the cat was very good!  I did enjoy the new Marvel entry "Doctor Strange" (2016) with its largely European leads of Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejifor, Tilda Swinton, and Mads Mikkelson, although it looks like future outings will be as a part of the increasingly boring Marvel ensembles. Some others very briefly: "The Gift" (2015) directed and written by and starring Joel Edgerton (rather nasty); "The Stamford Prison Experiment" (2015) yet another nasty take on the oft-told tale; "Good People" (2014) starring two of my least favourite actors James Franco and Kate Hudson -- more nasty; "White Island" and "Laid in America" (both 2015) -- a waste of time; and "Finding Altamira" (2016) a watchable account with Antonio Banderas of the cave paintings found in Spain.

Had I in fact written last Friday, I probably would have picked "I am not a Serial Killer" (2016) for its unusual storyline and casting. It stars Max Records (far less cute than his appearance in 2009's "Where the Wild Things Are") as a death-obsessed and unpopular high school student, who works in his mother's mortuary in his spare time, and Christopher Lloyd as his spooky neighbour and an inveterate serial killer. The interplay between the pair once the kid has established that alerting the police will only result in more murders is a fascinating game of cat and mouse.

And that's about as up to date as I shall get....