Film Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Release Date: September 4th, 1971 (Turin premiere)
Directed by: Paolo Cavara
Written by: Marcello Danon, Lucile Laks
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Rossella Falk, Silvano Tranquilli, Barbara Bach

Da Ma Produzione, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (P.A.C.), 89 Minutes, 98 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

Paolo Cavara was better known for making mondo films. However, he also made two giallo pictures, this being one of them.

Since I had never seen this but heard good things, I figured I’d check it out. It also stars a young Giancarlo Giannini, as well as the immensely beautiful ladies, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach.

Like many giallo pictures, this one plays like a proto-slasher movie. And while it is very artistic and vivid, as giallos go, it doesn’t look as overly stylized as the works of Argento or the two Bavas. Still, it is a beautiful looking picture, a product of its unique time and country of origin, but it feels a bit more grounded in a gritty reality.

The method of the killer in this movie is unique and kind of cool, as he kills his victims in the way that a spider wasp kills a tarantula: paralyzing them with the sting of a needle and then slicing open their stomachs as they are conscious and can feel the agonizing pain without the ability to fight back or scream.

Giannini plays the detective trying to stop the killer but in doing so, finds himself and his girlfriend as targets of the deranged, mysterious killer.

While I can’t put this on the same level as the best giallos to come out of Italy, it is still memorable because of its killer’s methods, as well as the superb cast.

This also came out just as the genre was finding its style and getting its stride. So it might not feel as refined, beautiful and as opulent as later films in the genre but it did help pave the way for them.

Overall, this was pretty enthralling from the perspective of one who generally likes these sort of films. I can’t necessarily call Cavara a giallo maestro just based off of this one film but it did make me want to check out his other giallo picture: Plot of Fear a.k.a. Bloody Peanuts.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’70s Italian giallo pictures.

Film Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Also known as: Bond 22 (working title), B22 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: October 29th, 2008 (London Film Festival)
Directed by: Marc Forster
Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench, David Harbour, Jesper Christensen, Rory Kinnear, Alfonso Cuaron (cameo), Guillermo del Toro (voice)

Eon Productions, Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 106 Minutes

Review:

“They say you’re judged by the strength of your enemies.” – James Bond

Quantum of Solace is a weird James Bond movie that seemed like it was trying to reinvent the franchise, tonally, after it already went through a major stylistic overhaul in the superb, previous film, Casino Royale.

I think that the director, Marc Forster, took a lot of creative license and the film suffers for that. Something that is part of a franchise, should have certain standards that keep the film cohesive and consistent with the other chapters in the larger, decades long, body of work.

I don’t necessarily blame Forster, as the studio may have been really keen on altering the Bond franchise following the immense success of Casino Royale. Plus, Forster wasn’t a guy known for action movies, he is known more for his dramatic, artsy films like The Kite Runner, Stranger Than Fiction, Stay, Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball. And if I’m being honest, his other major action film, World War Z, really missed the mark too. But, personally, I really like most of Forster’s dramatic work and he is typically a great visual storyteller. I think that is probably why he was given a shot with this film, as Eon Productions possibly wanted an actual visionary to come in and freshen things up even further.

However, the problem with his action direction is almost immediately apparent in this film, as the opening scene features what should be a really fantastic sequence but it’s destroyed by quick, choppy edits that make it pretty hard to follow. It’s like a rapid paced mess of wasted, expensive shots, all of which deserved more than a split second of screen time knowing the level of craftsmanship and work that went into setting up those shots.

This issue carries over into all the other action scenes though and this is a hard movie to watch and absorb during these moments, which are aplenty.

Apart from that, the film also feels incomplete. It feels like two-thirds of a Bond movie were slapped together as best as the studio could salvage and then released with the hope that it would just be a hit, capitalizing off of the great movie before it.

For those who might not know, this film was made during the time of a big writers strike in Hollywood. When the strike happened, for better or worse (definitely worse), all writers stopped working. So it’s possible that the script was unfinished and for fear of losing money and being delayed, the studio just shoved this into the filming stage. It’s hard to really place blame on anyone due to the situation but the end result was a really lackluster Bond film and the worst one of the Daniel Craig era. Granted, there is still one more Craig-led film, which is slated to come out whenever this COVID-19 crap passes.

Quantum of Solace isn’t terrible; it’s just okay. Frankly, it’s almost forgettable other than the plot threads that tie it to the reemergence of the villainous SPECTRE organization.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other James Bond films of the Daniel Craig era.

Film Review: Casino Royale (2006)

Also known as: 007: Casino Royale (alternative international title), Bond 21, Bond XXI, Bond Begins, James Bond 21 (working titles)
Release Date: November 14th, 2006 (London premiere)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Based on: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Ivana Milicevic, Jesper Christensen, Richard Branson (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Eon Productions, Casino Royale Productions, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[tied to a wooden chair as he is being tortured] I’ve got a little itch, down there. Would you mind?” – James Bond

As much as I loved this movie in 2006, I think I forgot just how damn good it was. It’s also aged exceptionally well while possibly being the greatest movie in the Daniel Craig James Bond era. I really like Skyfall a lot but this is in the same ballpark and my brain will probably debate which one is actually superior until the day I die. But I’m allowed to love them both, equally.

The film starts off with a bang and this really is a Year One type of story for the James Bond character, as it starts with him becoming a Double-O agent and then follows him on his first big mission.

The story is well crafted and one of the best in the entire franchise. This movie also sort of reboots the series and the character in a more serious tone after the Pierce Brosnan era films became cheesy, goofy, hokey and mostly terrible following his initial outing in 1995’s GoldenEye.

Speaking of which, Martin Campbell, the director of GoldenEye, returned to direct Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond, as well. He also showed that he could do a much more serious and realistic Bond film in the wake of other directors ruining what he started with the first Brosnan era picture.

Getting back to the tone, this character and these films desperately needed a change, if they were going to survive for future generations. While I know that some James Bond traditionalists didn’t like the gritty realism, most people did and that’s why this was such a hit after the deplorable Die Another Day.

While I’m still not sure if Daniel Craig was the best casting choice at the time, I do like him as Bond. My only real issue with him is that he lacks that suaveness that other had before him. Sure, he’s tough, he’s badass and he looks great in a suit but he does lack a certain charm. That’s also not to say that he’s charmless, it’s just really damn hard to follow Pierce Brosnan, who was stupendous in that department and maybe the best Bond in that regard.

That being said, Craig was great for what this picture needed but I don’t know if his seriousness was best for the franchise over multiple films, as he never really seems to be too comfortable or natural in being a real charmer. Although, his chemistry with Eva Green in this film is really good but I also think that’s because both of them are damn good actors.

Not known at the time, this film’s story sets up the return of SPECTRE, the massive, worldwide terrorist organization that was front and center as the antagonists of the Sean Connery era. There had been legal issues surrounding the use of SPECTRE and I’m not sure that they were resolved when this film was made but this did lay the foundation for their return and the return of top Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The only thing that hurts this film a bit is the long, drawn out poker sequences. While those probably worked for most people and they exist in the novel, they took away from more energetic storytelling. But on the flip side of that, the action sequences in this film certainly make up for the duller moments.

While there really isn’t a perfect James Bond film, this is one of the few to get pretty damn close to it. Plus, it’s one of the best looking movies in the long film series.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bond films of the Daniel Craig era.

Film Review: Mimic (1997)

Also known as: Judas (working title), Mutant (Poland), Métamorphose (French Canadian)
Release Date: August 22nd, 1997
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Matthew Robbins, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: Mimic by Donald A. Wollheim
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Josh Brolin, Giancarlo Giannini, Alexander Goodwin, F. Murray Abraham, Charles S. Dutton, Norman Reedus, Doug Jones

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Evolution has a way of keeping things alive.” – Dr. Gates

I haven’t seen Mimic since it first came out on VHS back in like 1998. I rented it once, watched it while drunk with friends and didn’t remember much other than it being visually creepy and having a lot of gross bug stuff.

hate cockroaches. I can deal with spiders, snakes and rabies raging raccoons but roaches are my sworn enemy. They’re gross, carry disease and well, they look like roaches. So I’ve never been big on bug horror, other than The Fly remake because that was some incredible otherworldly shit, visually. And to be honest, it just isn’t the fact that I hate roaches, which makes me not like bug horror, but it is the fact that most of these movies are pretty drab and just rely on the gross bits.

Plus, my mind always mixed this film up with Relic, which was another horror film that came out at the same time that dealt with some creature in the dark and had a five letter title that ended in “-ic”.

Mimic has the benefit of being directed by Guillermo del Toro and not too long after he did another bug-themed horror film with his breakout picture Cronos. And while this is a pretty pedestrian horror film it does have a fantastic atmosphere provided by del Toro. Watching this now, I got to take in a lot of shots that were very breathtaking and gave this an artistic feel that a film like this isn’t typically deserving of. That early shot where we see the children’s hospital, as the camera starts high and gradually sweeps towards ground level looked like something straight out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

This film also has a pretty strong cast but unfortunately, none of them are used that well. Mira Sorvino’s bug scientist is the most interesting person but she’s about the only character you’ll care for in this film, which boasts the talented lineup of Sorvino, Josh Brolin, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Giannini, Charles S. Dutton, Norman Reedus and Jeremy Northam. It also features del Toro regular Doug Jones, as one of the bug creatures.

Mimic is pretty forgettable but it spawned some direct-to-video sequels. I really have no interest in watching this as a series but I’ll probably eventually work my way through those followups.

I have only rated this as high as it is because it had good atmosphere and style to it and it wasn’t awful. It could have had a better script, better characters and been more engaging but it’s a product of its time and not too dissimilar from slightly above average horror pictures from the late ’90s.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Relic because they always blend together in my memories and I suppose the sequels to this film, as well as del Toro’s other bug/body horror movie Cronos.