Sunday, July 11, 2010

From the Vault: STILETTO -- Vallelonga, Sloan & fine "B" cast serve revenge up hot

Made a few years back and appearing at a couple of minor festivals (I am not dissing Newport Beach and Charleston, mind you, but we are not talking Cannes and Venice here), the rabid, ribald, sex-and-violence filled STILETTO sort of sneaked into town via the straight-to-DVD route.  There are a number of reasons, however, that you might want to catch up with it. Part camp, part dead-serious drama, part exploitation film, part revenge-themed thriller and a thoroughly "B" movie (meant as no condemnation, by the way), this very odd film -- directed by Nick Vallelonga (shown below) and written by Paul Sloan (who also has a major acting role in the ensemble) -- is likely to jolt you big-time, from its very first scene.  From then on, it works about as often as it doesn't, but when it does, it can be riveting.

Why is that beautiful blond  (played by the alluring Stana Katic, who soon becomes a brunnete: see poster above) slicing up mobsters via throat, tummy and heart? Could it be revenge?  Of course, but for what dastardly deed?  You'll find out, but not before several more sleazebags have bitten the dust. That's pretty much the plot.  The fascination of the film lies elsewhere: in its utterly bizarre set of characters and the array of terrific "B" actors corralled to play them. Each actor pulls out all the stops and, in the process, gives us a master class on quick, sharp characterization -- laid in with a shiv or on with a trowel, depending on the how subtle or florid the acting style in question.  (The trowel can occasionally work wonders, by the way.)

I called this a "B" Movie, so let's start with the literal  "B" actors: Berenger, Tom and Biehn, Michael.  These two have changed a lot physically since their glory days, especially Mr. Berenger, shown above (Biehn's below, right), but they've still got that swing. Another "B" is Brooks, Amanda, who plays a Brit-acccented, good-time girl interested only in inflicting pain -- on herself as much as on others (like that guy, below, left).  This is a characterization you will not soon forget.

As is another by that stand-up guy and Henry Jaglom-regular David Proval.  Mr. Proval has only one short scene, but from first-frame, he's in our (and the non-hero's) face, chewing that scenery with relish and aplomb. Moving from the florid to the so-real-it-hurts department, we have Diane Venora, an actress who maybe never has a false moment.  Though one of my favorites, I didn't immediately recognize her in this film (she's the wife of the Greek mob boss played by Berenger), but the few scenes she appears in take on such immediate importance and reality that they wipe the floor with everything else -- including the bloodshed and killing, which is saying something.  The dialog in Ms Verona's scenes seems particularly good, due perhaps to Mr. Sloan's (that's he, below, with the gun) writing ability, Ms Venora's acting or (I'd guess) a combination of the two.

Remember James Russo?  Here he is again (below) and just as alert and igniting as ever. William Forsythe? Check.  Tom Sizemore, Kelly Hu, D.B. Sweeney, Dominique Swain and lots more; they're all here and doing a fine job.  To say that the filmmakers have a tendency toward the overwrought is putting it mildly.  But surely they know this and so are capitalizing on it.  Still, the overwrought goes overboard occasionally, and the ending, in particular, while I liked its style and subtlety, I must say I did not believe (Sloan's character seems to have just saved the Berenger character's life, so why the extended animosity?)  Oh, well.  I suppose that's the least of the problems.

I can't call Stiletto is a good film.  But I can't really call it camp, either, because there are things about it too good for that category.  It's a weird combo, all right, and I will be interested in seeing what else Villalonga and Sloan come up with, together or separately.  Finally, I must thank my good friend and oft-time movie companion Jerry Williams for turning me on to Stiletto.  He recommend it months ago, but after seeing last week's The Girl Who Played With Fire, he remarked how much better a "woman's vengeance" thriller it  was than this second installment of the Millennium trilogy. So at last I moved the movie to the top of my Netflix queue -- the result of which you have yet finished reading.

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