November 8th, 2014

TELEPHONE WORLD (2014) *

Rachel (Elissa Dowling) gets a call from her agent in a café and is amazed to learn she landed a gig on a new TV show. She goes home and bides her time in her apartment. After a series of crappy phone calls (her boyfriend breaks up with her, a family member dies, etc.), she has a meltdown and begins cutting herself.

Telephone World is almost entirely set inside Dowling’s apartment. Apparently, it was all filmed in one continuous take (although there are several cutaways whenever Dowling answers the phone), which I guess makes it somewhat interesting. That doesn’t make it very good though. In fact, it’s downright hard to watch.

The problem is that the picture is compressed into a shoebox format that’s even smaller than letterboxing. The camerawork is blurry and shaky, and the lighting is awful; which further hurts your eyes. It all looks like it was shot on someone’s phone or something (which maybe explains the title).

Watching someone fritter away their afternoon isn’t the most cinematic of activities. Watching Dowling talk on the phone, make coffee, smoke weed, and sniff coke gets old fast. Seriously, did we need to see every blessed detail of her warming a TV dinner in the microwave?

Seeing someone in the midst of a mental breakdown isn’t much fun to watch either. There are only so many times you can watch someone cut on themselves and crawl into a fetal position crying before it wears on your nerves. The fact that she’s a druggy doesn’t make her especially sympathetic either.

Telephone World is available now from Cinema Epoch (www.cinemaepoch.com)

OFF SEASON (2014) **

After her husband goes to jail for one of those Bernie Madoff deals, Sylvia (Elizabeth Lee) moves to their beach house for a little solitude. Pretty soon, she begins receiving prank calls and starts to see imagined intruders in her home. She strikes up a friendship with a grocery delivery guy, and starts seeing the ghost of her brother, who keeps showing up unexpectedly. Are the ghosts real, or is she losing her mind?

Off Season was filmed on the cheap and takes place mostly on one location. That means most of the suspense comes from Lee being alone in her isolated house and being menaced by (maybe) imaginary spirits. Because of the limited budget, a lot of the scenes revolve around minor occurrences that definitely aren’t very scary (picture frames falling off the wall, the lights going out, doors banging, etc.). All of this might have been acceptable if it actually delivered on the scares. Unfortunately, it’s too low key to be effective. Since the film is more psychological than out-and-out horror, most fans of the genre will be left cold by this one. The crummy cinematography and poor sound doesn’t help.

Lee tries her best to sell the fragile mental state of her character. She has some good moments sprinkled throughout, but can’t quite carry the movie. Likewise, the build-up to the supernatural shenanigans is partially effective; however the flick just doesn’t have what it takes to cross the finish line in the end. The Sixth Sense-style scenes of her seeing dead people don’t really work either.

Off Season is available now from Cinema Epoch (www.cinemaepoch.com)

EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ‘70S (2014) ***

If you love a good Italian “poliziotteschi” flick like I do, you’re going to love Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ‘70s. Whether you’re a diehard devotee, casual fan, or curious newbie to the genre, there is plenty here to love about this documentary. If anything, it’s an excuse to see guys like Fred Williamson, Henry Silva, John Saxon, Franco Nero, John Steiner, Antonio Sabato, and Richard Harrison (all of whom have aged gracefully) trading barbs and swapping anecdotes.

The film begins focusing on other examples of genres that Euro Cinema filmmakers (mostly from Italy) exploited to death. Sword and sandal epics, spy movies, giallo thrillers, and spaghetti westerns are all briefly discussed and the patterns of their success, exploitation, and eventual demise will closely mirror that of the poliziotteschi genre. The documentary is often insightful while showing how close the poliziotteschi flicks copied American movies like Dirty Harry and Magnum Force. (There are side by side comparisons.) There are also a lot of great clips from some of the best (and worst) the genre has to offer.

Of course, many of the films (especially ones with American stars) got imported to the US. The film discusses the rigors of dubbing the pictures for the American audience (they were shot without sound), as well as the sneaky way distributors would retitle them to sell it as something it wasn’t (most often as a horror movie). All of this is pretty interesting.

The most interesting bit for me was learning WHY Italy was such a powerhouse when it came to cranking out exploitation movies. It seems that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were only two TV channels in Italy, so there was a huge demand for theatrically exhibited films. When you look at it that way, it makes perfect sense.

Running a bit over two hours, Eurocrime could’ve benefitted from another pass at the editing bay. Still, there is a wealth of information here, and the flick is well worth checking out. There’s a particularly cool bit at the end when everyone is discussing the death of the genre due to a rise in Italian post-apocalyptic movies. Hopefully, the filmmakers will do a follow-up documentary on that genre. If ever there was a exploitation genre that deserves its own documentary, it’s that one.

Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ‘70s is available now from Cinema Epoch (www.cinemaepoch.com)