DARIO ARGENTO PANICO – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Director Simone Scafidi has his work cut out for him; Argento has spent his adult life in the spotlight; he was his own brand manager before the term existed and has always done a top-notch job of appearing guilessly unguarded while carefully cultivating his persona. It’s hard not to suspect that his provocative remarks have their roots in an instinctive awareness that a bit of controversy makes good copy… I doubt that he made many female friends by observing, “I like women, especially beautiful ones. If they have a good face and figure I would much prefer to watch them being murdered than an ugly girl or man,” but if a team of crack publicists had spent a month working on a provocative, guaranteed-to-be-controversial, eye-catcher of a statement they couldn’t have come up with anything better. All that having been said, Panico is a must-see for Argento completists; the maestro is in his 80s.

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Simone Scafidi on Dario Argento and DARIO ARGENTO PANICO – Maitland McDonagh interviews

Dario Argento Panico director Simone Scafidi — whose work includes a documentary about Lucio Fulci, often referred to as Argento’s rival as a master of horror al Italia — has said he wanted to portray Argento not just as a filmmaker but also as a man: son of producer Salvatore Argento, ex-husband of the late actress Daria Nicolodi, father of actresses/filmmakers Asia Argento and Fiore Argento. Dario was born to be a filmmaker, but Scafaldi addresses issues that range from the difference between the myth of Argento and the reality of him to the skewed perception that Argento is a misogynist who claims he loves and respects women while being notoriously demanding on set and placing them in roles that culminate in violent murder. Scafidi’s documentary will convert no one who’s appalled by Argento’s films. But but admirers of Argento’s work would do well to seek it out.

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HOUSEHOLD SAINTS (Restoration) – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Revisiting Nancy Savoca’s Household Saints, based on the novel Francine Prose novel about generations of a family in New York’s Little Italy, leaves me in a bad position. First and foremost, I’m not Italian — but to be fair, the Irish aren’t so far removed culturally, starting with the ethos of family before all; as everyone and his brother says, “Irish and the Italians, cut from the same cloth.” And I’ll go along with that except to say that Irish-Americans cut their straying progeny a bit more slack because… Irish. The larger issue for me is the film’s status, starting with lack of inclusion on The New York Times list of best films of 1993. Yes, there were bigger and better publicized movies, but Household Saints’ quiet exploration of what it meant to be a young woman coming of age in an old-school neighborhood tucked into a city in a constant state of reinvention remains sharp, subtle and thoroughly engaging.

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THE ZONE OF INTEREST – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Both sensitive and slyly ambitious Rudolf Hoss (Christian Friedel) and his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Huller), thrive on order and for the former, that’s an ideal qualification for military life. Rudolf quickly rises through the ranks, while Hedwig dedicates herself to being a wife and mother to the two children she quickly bears, Hans and Inge… yes, one girl and one boy, a child to replace each parent. Hedwig keeps an impeccable house, cultivates an impressive garden in which both flowers and vegetables thrive and raising Hans and Inge. Their lovely house would shine in the most competitive American suburb, their dog is adorable… and they radiate an unspoken but clearly shared belief in their own perfection: One that’s based on fulfilling an almost comical ideal of partnership, parenthood and division of labor while the crematorium visible over their back wall is converting enormous numbers of other people into greasy smoke and ashes.

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ABIGAIL – Review by Maitland McDonagh

An affectionate homage to ’70s exploitation movies, Abigail takes place in a small Alabama town, the kind of place where nothing much happens aside from the usual sports worship and school bullying because hey, hormonal teens will be hormonals teens and it will all shake down by the time they graduate and start recreating their parents’ lives. It opens in 1976, when a pair of young people in a VW van pull over so the guy can take a leak while his girlfriend rolls a blunt. All of which ends badly: Both are murdered by someone wearing a creepy burlap-bag mask with a childish approximation of a human face painted on it.

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WHITE RIVER – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Directed and co-written by first-time feature filmmaker Ma Xue, White River blows past the stereotype that female filmmakers are more interested in swoony romance than sex. Pretty young Yan Fang (Yuan Tian) and her husband, Yuan Yong (Song Ningfeng), live in an undistinguished apartment building in Yanjiao–think, the Yonkers of Tokyo. Though Yan Fang loves her husband, she’s more sexually adventurous than he is and takes up with a waiter (Xu Weihao) who works at a small local restaurant. Cue the tears and fireworks, you might think, but no–she’s able to broker a menage a trois with less trouble than one might imagine and really, that’s about it for plot.

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SILENT NIGHT – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Woo’s movies kick ass from grindhouses to art cinemas, combining down-and-dirty action and high-art visuals over and over again. By the time his characters cut all ties to propriety they’ve already been pushed to the limit and are committed to burning everything to the ground. And ultimately, Woo makes the case that yes, that’s what’s called for; if you’re a good guy who doesn’t make a stand against the bad guys–collateral damage be damned–then you’re not in it to win it. Not a prescription for real-life social policy, but wow, does it work on the movie screen.

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EVERYONE WILL BURN – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Director, co-writer/co-producer and cinematographer David Hebrero delivers what is fundamentally a psychological horror movie about the worst-possible-case scenario consequences of unmanaged grief. It’s tightly written, beautifully photographed and moves at a brisk clip without feeling rushed. The premise verges on outlandish, but in the moment, it plays.
The film’s greatest strength is Macarena Gomez’s performance; she manages to sell the idea that she’s so traumatized by the loss her biological child that she’s willing to ignore the fact that Lucia is clearly not a little a little girl…. and that’s before we discover that Lucia is something far worse than some manner of con artist preying on another woman’s grief.

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THANKSGIVING – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Let’s go to the trailer for Thanksgiving, a slasher movie in the grand tradition of Halloween, Christmas, Mother’s Day et al., which use take holiday traditions and color them blood red. After mock-promising us back in 2007 that “white meat … dark meat … all will be carved,” Thanksgiving–is set in Plymouth, Massachusetts, because of course it is–serves up just that. It’s sleekly efficient and delivers both some solid suspense sequences and one of the more imaginatively grotesque images I’ve seen in a lifetime of watching horror movies–one of which is in the set of promotional images that are already all over the web.

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DEATH ON THE BORDER – Review by Maitland McDonagh

That child-sex trafficking is a terrible thing goes without saying: Bad enough that, on the whole, most of us would rather not think about it. So kudos to Australian-born filmmaker Wendy Wilkins: Her briskly-paced thriller is entertaining without being exploitative and never loses sight of its message. The story of Maddy’s transformation from a small-town cop with a complicated and unhappy life, including an unfaithful husband and a devastating miscarriage, into a crusader for sexually exploited women is a good one. The performances are uniformly good, from Eric Roberts’ depiction of a very bad cop to Danny Trejo’s as a sympathetic priest.

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