Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cult Films: Card Player (Dario Argento / Anchor Bay) (NTSC Region 1)

THE CARD PLAYER
Directed by Dario Argento
Produced by Dario Argento & Claudio Argento
Written by Dario Argento & Franco Ferrini
Director of Photograpy Benot Debie
Music by Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Stefania Rocca, Liam Cunningham, Silvio Muccino & Claudio Santamaria
2004/104 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/Italy/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
Choose your own cliché: “All good things must come to an end” or “You can’t go home again”. Either of these describe the career of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. During the 1970s and the early 1980s, the man was the master of shock cinema and made some truly unique films. But, it’s been 23 years since Argento’s last great film and 18 years since his last good movie, and while his reputation has remained, his output has suffered. Still, the man keeps going and his latest film, 2004’s THE CARD PLAYER, is now available on DVD in Region 1.

As THE CARD PLAYER opens, police detective Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca) receives a cryptic e-mail from someone calling themselves “The Card Player”. This person claims to have kidnapped a British tourist and threatens to kill her is the police don’t beat him at online poker. The assailant opens a chat window with the police and then sends them the video poker game, complete with a webcam window showing the intended victim. Police Chief Marini (Antonio Cantafora) won’t indulge this whim and “The Card Player” wins. (Meaning that the English tourist loses.) Feeling that the police are being uncooperative, British police representative John Brennan (Liam Cunningham) is brought in to assist. When “The Card Player” kidnaps another victim, Mari and Brennan leap into action, trying to find clues as to the killer’s identity, while the police technicians attempt to track down his whereabouts. Once the two detectives find a young video poker wizard (Silvio Muccino), they feel that they have a chance to beat “The Card Player” and save the next victim.
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Dario Argento’s earlier films had a distinct flavor which was all their own. These movies had a specific look and the stories contained certain cues which became Argento’s trademarks. With THE CARD PLAYER, Argento has made a conscious decision to leave this style behind and try something different. This is a very brave decision which backfires on the director, as THE CARD PLAYER has a very pedestrian look and if Argento’s name wasn’t on the DVD box, most viewers would have no idea that it was one of his films. Focusing more on the police procedural aspects of the story (more on that in a moment), Argento has given the film a flat look and he films the action in a very straight-forward fashion, eschewing his famous camera movements. This approach would have worked if the movie had a powerful story, but sadly it doesn’t.
Just as THE CARD PLAYER has a homogenous look, the story is lacking in originality as well. The idea of a serial killer using online-gaming as part of their M.O. is somewhat interesting, but similar things have been done in other films. As with many of Argento’s films, THE CARD PLAYER is sorely lacking in details. We know nothing about the potential victims, so there’s little suspense when their lives are on the line. The audience is given many suspects and few clues, which is the case with most gialli. But, in the past, Argento’s films have usually contained fairly good motives for the killer. Here, the motive is quite hard-to-swallow, and feels like a cop-out. I was able to guess part of the twist ending, as it was very similar to the one in the 2001 Spanish film TUNO NEGRO. As for the police procedural aspects of THE CARD PLAYER, they are akin to those seen in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or “C.S.I.”, so it doesn’t seem fresh. THE CARD PLAYER isn’t necessarily a bad movie, as it’s well-made and coherent for the most part. The problem is that fans want a Dario Argento film to be something special and THE CARD PLAYER feels like something that one would catch on HBO in the wee hours of the morning.
THE CARD PLAYER is dealt onto DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing very little grain. The colors look very good and the night time scenes are never overly dark. The clarity of the image gives the picture a great deal of depth, with helps add to the very naturalistic approach to the film. There are so minor edge enhancement elements here, but nothing overly bothersome. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which sounds very good. The track provides clear dialogue (which, yes, does sound very dubbed at times) and sound effects. Claudio Simonetti’s techno score sounds fantastic and there are many moments which exhibit top-notch surround sound effects.
THE CARD PLAYER DVD sports some nice extra features. We start with an audio commentary from Argento historian Alan Jones. Jones speaks at length throughout the film discussing the history of the film and sharing many minor details about the cast and the film’s production. The only problem with this track is that Jones isn’t very objective and only questions Argento’s talents in a few scenes. “Playing with Death” is a 13-minute interview with Argento in which he discusses the making of THE CARD PLAYER elaborating on his change in style, the story, and the actors. Composer Claudio Simonetti is profiled in “Maestro of Fear” (17 minutes), where he discusses his musical career, his work with Argento, and the evolution of Goblin. “Promo” is 9-minutes of on-set video from THE CARD PLAYER accompanied by music from various Argento films. Similarly, “Behind-the-Scenes” (5 minutes) features more on-set footage, plus comments from Argento and star Stefania Rocca. The extras are rounded out with the trailer for THE CARD PLAYER, letterboxed at 1.85:1 and 16 x 9 and a text biography for Argento.

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