Grand Piano

This is going to be a shorter review than normal. However, I caught Grand Piano on in demand last night and wanted to share a few thoughts.

Grand Piano works on the level of sheer tour de force cinematography and nail-biting tension. The plot is somewhat absurd, and the twists that follow are even more so, but the performances are great, and the use of the camera is stunning. Think Brian De Palma meets Argento at his most frenetic, and you have an idea of the mise en scene at work here. Elijah Wood plays a masterful pianist returning to the stage after a lengthy absence following a breakdown while trying to perform a notoriously difficult piece. Already a jagged bundle of nerves, he is sent over the edge by a message  in his sheet music as he begins to perform, telling him that he will die if he misses a note in tonight’s performance.

Grand Piano is insanely tense, yet it is playful at the same time. You will be on the edge of your seat, but you will be enjoying yourself as well. As the plot plays out, there are moments so absurd that I could not help but smile, and yet somehow I never lost the intense suspense at work here. Wood’s performance is excellent, but for me the camera was the star of the show; swooping and gliding and for a stellar moment even split-screening its way into my psyche. Yes this is in many ways a case of style over substance, but when the style is this much fun I won’t complain.

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Maniac 2013

William Lustig’s original 1980 slasher classic Maniac is notorious for a few reasons.  Firstly, it is the rare slasher that stays with the story of the killer as opposed to following the victims. It causes a degree of discomfort when your protagonist is your antagonist. Secondly, there is the unabashedly gory effects work of artist Tom Savini in his prime.  Over the top and grisly, the original Maniac is a gore fiend’s delight. However, what really makes Lustig’s film noteworthy is the sleazy, sickening feeling it leaves you with. Draped in the grime of 1980 New York City, doused in sleeze, and dripping with sweat, Maniac leaves you feeling like you need a shower just to remove the dirt from your psyche.

One would not think of the film as ripe pickings for the remake-a-go-go trend we find ourselves in, but yet here we are with an updated version of Maniac, starring no less that Frodo Baggins himself, Elijah Wood. Even more surprising is that the film works. Do not get me wrong–there is 100% no need for a remake of Maniac. The original is a perfect example of a time and place–particularly early 80’s grindhouse cinema in NYC. However, if we have to have a remake of Maniac, this is a damn good one.

At first hearing of this project, you might think this was going to be a watered down take on the original. It most definitely is not. Practically dripping in gore from its opening scene, Maniac is not a film for the faint of heart. The effects work, handled by the effects masterminds (and Savini protégés) at KNB effects is intense. Wood’s performance is suitably disturbing, although not as repulsive as Joe Spinelli’s  filth oozing tour-de-force in the original.

The film is shot beautifully, replacing the grime and filth with a slicker veneer, but not forgetting to add occasional bouts of moist steam and urban decay. There is a bit of a euro horror sensibility to the proceedings, and a truly mesmerizing synth score by Rob (yes it is credited as just Rob) is particularly effective at creating the mood. What I really liked about the film was the fact that it was very faithful to the intent of the original. It leaves you with a melancholy and sickly sort of lingering malaise. 

There are sufficient changes to the story to make the film an update rather than just a complete copy of the original, including some modern uses of technology. There are mother issues at the heart of both films, though the details change. The truth is I did not see any startling revelations here that cried out as a reason to remake Maniac. Director Franck Khalfoun has crafted an effective slasher and serial killer character study that leaves it’s imprint on you. His P2 was a decently effective stalker as well. Let’s hope his talent is applied to something with some more originality soon.