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Francesca (Blu-ray/DVD/CD)

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Francesca

Starring Luis Emilio Rodriguez, Gustavo Dalessanro, Raul Gederlini

Directed by Luciano Onetti

Distributed by Unearthed Films


With a retro, “return to the glory days” ethos being so prevalent these days, and with filmmakers having more tools at their disposal than ever, it only seems fitting that pictures paying homage to celebrated subgenres of horror have been on the rise. Some are done straight while others are done with a more tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek tone – either way movies that are bound to the past also toe a fine line between slavish reproduction and originality. The giallo subgenre enjoyed a boon in the ‘70s that saw dozens of films released featuring the requisite staples – black-gloved killers, extreme gore, incredible scores, convoluted plots, creepy dolls, and J&B Scotch. Lately, filmmakers have been paying respect to the giallo with films like Amer (2009), The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013), The Editor (2014), and Francesca (2015), the latter of which comes from a pair of brothers – Luciano and Nicolas Onetti – operating out of Argentina.

There are so many facets of giallo Francesca gets right it makes the things that are wrong more glaring. Unlike, say, The Editor, which nailed the trappings of giallo but erred on the side of comedy, Francesca is so deftly shot, color graded, and lit viewers could be forgiven for thinking it comes from the ‘70s. The story, however, is where things get murky. Gialli have never been known for their clear narratives, but Francesca is a film that seems like it was shot as a series of giallo homage moments that were then cut together into feature-length. There is a huge portion of the film where viewers may be left to wonder if anyone – including those behind the camera- know what is happening. The plot does get wrapped up a bit more coherently once the climax has been reached but it’s a bit of a slog to get there.

A serial killer is on the loose, eluding the police every step of the way. Even eyewitness accounts provide very little information, other than to state the killer appears to be a woman, dressed in red and wearing a veil. The murders being committed are brutal, with each victim having coins placed over their eyes after death. Letters found at the crime scene taunt law enforcement. The cops have leads that are tenuous, though one does seem promising after they speak with Vittorio Visconti (Raul Gederlini), a playwright who was confined to a wheelchair fifteen years ago when a killer stabbed him in the spine and abducted his daughter, Francesca. That age old case may provide the link detectives need to solve the current series of murders, and Visconti’s story may not be as sympathetic as he has led everyone to believe.

Story truly is secondary in Francesca, a movie that does everything in order to sell the verisimilitude of a classic giallo without tipping its hat to let viewers know this is a modern movie. Unless you have the sort of trained eye that can spot digital photography easily (as I suspect this was shot digitally) then odds are you’ll be fooled into thinking this is something produced during the heyday of Argento, Bava, Sergio Martino, etc. The Onetti’s have managed to reproduce the cinematic style of that period, with a high contrast image filled with film grain and cinematography virtually identical to similar films. This deserves a great deal of credit since so few filmmakers have successfully imitated giallo movies to such a respectful degree; usually there is some giveaway to clue viewers in that this is a new production. The inclusion of giallo staples – black gloves, scary dolls, J&B Scotch, horrific deaths, POV shots, expansive estates, a Goblin-esque score – all felt organic, too, and not as though the Onetti’s were concerned with cramming every wink-and-nod element into their film.

Still, visual pleasantries aren’t enough to sustain an entire film and the lack of a strong story, even in this 80-minute feature, will be enough to make most viewers start checking out. Francesca feels like something that would have worked better as a short; being stretched out to feature length, it starts to wear out its welcome as it nears the hour mark. One positive in addition to the aesthetics is the score, which is also composed by Luciano Onetti. Taking cues from Goblin, the soundtrack makes use of sounds both synthetic and organic. Just as the film is a visual duplicate of ‘70s pictures, so, too, is the score an audible carbon copy of scores done by the likes of Goblin and Bruno Nicolai. Onetti has done a great job of capturing the sound and style of those seminal scores, and Unearthed Films has done a great service by providing buyers with a CD copy inside this package.

The 2.35:1 1080p image is intended to mimic those giallo films of the ‘70s, so expect to see a picture that is severely color graded, with high contrast, variable definition, and a fine sheen of faux film grain. Colors are deeply saturated, nearly to the point of bleeding, but the image is fairly stable. Fine detail is present but not overly impressive, with the best moments appearing during daylight shots.

It sounds like the levels have been cranked up to “11” on the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. Many of the sound effects and some bits of dialogue are piercing, though the power of the track does bode well for Onetti’s score. Dialogue isn’t aged like the picture, thankfully, so all of the dialogue comes through cleanly and with (mostly) strong levels. There are a few moments of “bad dubbing” and minor hissing, but these are intentional and don’t reflect poorly on the fidelity. Subtitles are available in English.

“Behind the Scenes” – Get an overview of the production, along with a few interviews and a focus on the make-up effects.

A “Deleted Scene (Alternate Beginning)”, “Interview – Luciano & Nicolas Onetti”, and a “Hidden Scene” are included as well.

The set also includes the feature film on DVD and the film’s score on CD.

Special Features:

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Deleted Scene
  • Interview – Luciano and Nicolas Onetti
  • Hidden Scene
  • CD soundtrack

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  • Francesca
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.28 (18 votes)

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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger

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Starring Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan

Written and directed by Derek Nguyen


Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.

Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.

Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.

Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.

Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.

The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.

Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.

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Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse

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Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins

Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson

Directed by Peter Howitt


Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.

Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.

While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.

In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.

  • Scorched Earth
3.0

Summary

Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.

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User Rating 4 (1 vote)

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The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation

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Written by Marcus Sabom


I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat

Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.

To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.

With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.

One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.

The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.

However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.

  • The Good Friend
4.0

Summary

An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.

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