The Weekly Summary #11

cry2I’m afraid I’ll need to keep this a bit shorter than normal, but here’s how the week’s viewing went-

38. The Naked Spur (1953)

39. Shock Waves (1977) – Amazon Prime

40. Cry of the City (1948)

Rocky III (1982) – 4K UHD

41. The Narrow Margin (1952)

Star Trek Picard Season Three : Episode 5 – Amazon Prime

While the worst of the week is an easy one this time around- clearly its Shock Waves, albeit with the caveat that it was not a total stinker and that I still rather enjoyed it. However,  picking a best of the week was actually a bit tricky, as I saw some really good films this week – by chance more than by design, to be sure, but hey that’s the magic of films, always a surprise around the corner. Both Cry of the City and The Narrow Margin were very good noir.

Can get a bit expensive though- The Naked Spur was so good it galvanised me into ordering a  Blu-ray copy from the Warner Bros online store  (a store discount made it cheaper than waiting for Amazon to get it next month). Film collecting is a terrible thing for one’s wallet; you see a good film and its hard to resist the need to physically own a copy. Damn, its a hard habit to break.

But anyway, The Naked Spur it is. When the Blu-ray disc arrives it’ll give me a good excuse to watch it again. Meanwhile, there’s a few more Blu-rays of Westerns on the way too…



The Weekly Summary # 10

rockyfilmasThis week, the Don makes an offer a boxer can’t refuse.

The Godfather Part 2 (1972)  – 4K UHD

35. The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (2020) – 4K UHD

Rocky II (1979) – 4K UHD

Rocky Balboa (2006) – Amazon Prime

Creed (2015) – 4K UHD

Star Trek: Picard Season Three , Episode Four – Amazon Prime

36. Devil’s Workshop (2022) – Amazon Prime

37. Luther: The Fallen Sun (2023) – Netflix

Aha. I just realised that I progressed from the Italian Westerns and crime dramas that I was watching a week or so back, to films about the Italian mafia, followed by films concerning the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa. I call it the Viva Italia encore (perhaps I should go get my coat).

So I managed to complete watching the Godfather films, and then watched more boxing films in a single week than I ever have before. Not that I’m considering myself a boxing movie aficionado or anything, but after watching the noir staples The Set-Up (1956) and The Harder They Fall (1956) prior to all these modern-era testosterone-fests, I’m quickly realising how the sport of boxing enables great drama onscreen. Its life in microcosm- personal aspiration, struggle and sacrifice, the physical challenge, the personal life behind that with its own passions, and yes, the corruption and greed (that’ll be those noir rather than Stallone’s dramas). Yeah, I’m certainly at the very least understanding the appeal of boxing movies. And also that there’s possibly only so much Stallone one can take in a week.

This week was also mostly re-watches. Actually, an aside to that is that I was convinced I hadn’t seen Rocky Balboa before, even though Claire assured me that I had. Turns out she was right, of course. Must confess I sometimes get increasingly alarmed regards my recollection of some films. I used to remember each one so clearly but they tend to blur a bit, now, sometimes, or escape me completely. Fifteen minutes in I realised I had indeed seen Balboa before, and felt both a mug and wee bit concerned. Once you get to my age, you tend to worry about warning signs of dementia when you forget things like that, but I suppose its more a result of just watching so many movies. Even in my teens and twenties, I never watched as much stuff as I do now- there is just so much available these days, either on disc in new releases/ re-releases or in my collection, or up on streaming platforms or the multiple channels on television. That’s a lot of noise.

So regards the best/worst of the week, as that refers to watching ‘new’ (to me) stuff, it narrows it down to just two choices really (I also counted Coda as a ‘new’ film as Coppola assured me in his intro it was a ‘whole-new’ vision of that third Godfather film -patently over-exaggerating any differences- but it sits slap in the middle of the other two new entries). So best of the week is Luther: The Fallen Sun, a movie spin-off from the BBC drama series starring Idris Elba from Netflix, which was pretty good- well, it was pretty daft, too, as such elaborate far-fetched serial killer things are these days (both Silence of the Lambs and Seven raised these things to silly extremes for ever after) which I’ll get into if I manage to get to write a review. It’ll be no surprise then that worst of the week was Devil’s Workshop, a comedy/horror hybrid thingy that was so enlivened by Radha Mitchell I feel a bit guilty marking it as the worst of a week, but there you go.

Next week- well, its time I elaborated upon the new Trek, and I tried watching an Italian zombie film (that’s somehow gotten a 4K UHD release, further adding to the ignominy of The Abyss and Conan the Barbarian still waiting) on YouTube and it was so terrible/unwatchable that I gave up midway; a grim experience that I feel I should complain about here just to get it out of my system. Beyond that, who knows? Although, when I discovered Devil’s Workshop on Amazon Prime,  I also spotted a Peter Cushing horror film I haven’t seen before, adding that to my watchlist, so yeah, Shock Waves looks to be a likely candidate for next week.

Oh, and its the Oscars tonight. The irrelevance of that occasion as I’ve gotten older never ceases to surprise me. Its a pity Billy Wilder isn’t around to make a Sunset Boulevard-like film about an Oscar ceremony, all the politics and back-slapping, the inflated and bruised monster egos, all the money and the greed etc.  Maybe Netflix should approach Ricky Gervais… Anyway, with all the apparent Oscars noise regards Everything  Everywhere All at Once, I’m tempted to rewatch my 4K disc of that film again tonight in a second attempt to discover what all the fuss is about. Well, I say tempted, but do I really deserve to suffer through that again?

The Weekly Summary #9

god1Week 9 of 2023. Maybe I should start tracking them as 8/2023 and 9/2023 or something. So anyway, this is how the week’s viewing went-

30. The Hatton Garden Job (2017)

31. Rocky (1976) – 4K UHD

32. Fire Down Below (1957)

33. Empire of the Ants (1977)

34. Fall (2022)

Star Trek Picard (season 3) Episode 3

The Godfather (1972) – 4K UHD

So The Godfather had been making me feel guilty ever since Christmas, when the 4K trilogy set was a present I received and I didn’t immediately get to watch it. Ever since, its been looking down at me from its shelf. Well, I figured this weekend was the ideal opportunity – the evenings were free for watching the trilogy over three consecutive nights (well, we’ll see how it goes but that was the plan, so hopefully its Godfather Part Two tonight).

It’s utterly redundant of me to say much about the film itself – The Godfather is a remarkable achievement, one of the best films ever made. Not certain if its one of my top ten favourites, it always seems to be one of those films easily admired, maybe harder loved (I always preferred Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America), but I’m certainly warming to it more as I get older. What I will say though is that everything everyone said about this 4K disc when it came out last year was all true, with zero hype- its got an extraordinary picture quality, elevating almost every shot to a work of art, and not in the showy way of early Ridley Scott films either. Instead it looks utterly ravishing in a strange, matter-of-fact way that doesn’t draw attention to itself, but instead serves the story and seems utterly authentic regards the period setting. It doesn’t ‘look’ like a film shot in 1971. It looks like a film shot in 1948 or 1955, its cinematography feels almost as if it was shot around the same time as Hitchcock’s Vertigo. You combine a film shot as well as this film is, with a fantastic script and with a perfect cast, well, you’ve got cinematic lightning caught in a bottle right there.

Maybe I should mention, at this point, all those other films sitting on the shelves in my den-cum-temporary-office in the back room. Alongside The Godfather sits the second Hitchcock 4K set, in which there are four films, I think, waiting to be watched (alongside THAT set is the first, in which the 4K disc of Psycho still inexplicably waits).  A few shelves down, Mad Max 2 & 3 from the 4K Anthology boxset are waiting (there’s the Cannes and Argento cuts in the Dawn of the Dead set alongside the Mad Max box too).  Looking back up the shelves, Eureka’s 4K set of the Police Story Trilogy waiting, too- I watched the first film some months back, but haven’t gotten around to the other two yet. Above that, there’s a few Kino Lorber 4K’s sitting together – among them a few still not watched; Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Orson Welles’  Touch of Evil.  To be clear,  some of these are films I’ve watched several times over the years, these are ‘just’ 4K editions that I’ve bought hoping to savour them again in definitive editions, like Criterion’s 4K of Double Indemnity. Watching something ‘new’ seems to take priority over something ‘old’… I’m not confident about any logic in that, but seems to be how it goes, and there is a comfort knowing I have them there to watch when the whim takes me.  One of the other issues with some of these films is that the more obscure ones don’t really interest Claire, so I have to find time to watch them by myself which is an order of magnitude harder than watching all those films that Claire WILL watch, as there’s a long list of those waiting too.

But it does not escape me that I have not watched the 4K edition of Touch of Evil, but I HAVE watched Bullet Train, or, say, Top Gun: Maverick three times now since I bought that film on disc (I don’t rewatch ‘new’ films as much as I used to years ago, but something about Maverick pulls me back).

Anyway, enough of that self-flagellation. Time for best/worst of the week. Well, obviously The Godfather would be the best by a wide margin, but this only concerns films I have watched for the first time, and on that front, it transpires I was in for a bit of a surprise this week, when the 4K disc of Rocky arrived. Watching it, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d never seen the film before. I’d seen the ending before, as its repeated in Rocky II, and I’d seen bits of the film over the years, usually in showings over Christmas holidays. But I’d never actually watched the original film in its entirety before, and hey, turns out it was great, and now I know why some folks go nuts over it.  I think seeing Rocky III and IV on VHS rentals had given me the wrong impression of the franchise as a whole, leaving me with no interest in going back to the first film, but yeah, I had never actually watched Rocky. Somehow these things happen, you miss some films…  in this case I actually thought I had (maybe boxing films blur together in the memory), but there you go, and yeah, that was the best ‘new’ film of the week.

The worst of this week is easy:  Fire Down Below, which was really sunk (sic) by its cast, which itself was a surprise since it starred Jack Lemmon. I know, I know… a gambling man couldn’t be blamed for putting his money on Empire of the Ants but in a funny way, sure, its a bad film, but I enjoyed seeing those old stalwarts from 1970s/1980s tv shows in their wooden ‘prime’ so much so that, weighing things up, I enjoyed that film a little bit more.

The Weekly Summary # 8

champ4Week 8 already?

26. Black Sea (2023) – Netflix

27. Free Hand for a Tough Cop (1976) – Blu-ray

28. Bullet Train (2022)

The Champions, TV Series 1968/69, Episode 1 ‘The Beginning’ – Talking Pictures TV

Star Trek: Pickard -Season Three (2023), Episode 2

29. Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin (1970) – Blu-ray

When I was a kid, ATV here in the Midlands used to show The Champions on Sunday lunchtimes/early afternoons. These were repeats, as the show was originally broadcast in 1968/1969, and what I remember would be in the early 1970s.  A bit of escapist fun, with lead characters with strange super powers, this espionage/thriller series was sure to appeal to kids like me stuck in the Black Hole that was 1970s Britain.  For a show that was only moderately successful (it was clearly limited by budgets and intended to cash-in on the success of The Avengers tv series) and doesn’t seem to have stayed in the cultural consciousness anything like how The Avengers has, The Champions has been repeated on television countless times. I noticed it starting a fresh run of repeats on Talking Pictures TV so set my Tivo to record it. Nostalgia and all that.

Yeah, nostalgia- funny how music is such a part of that. I used to love the theme tune (credited to Tony Hatch, who wrote other memorable theme tunes for shows like, er, Emmerdale Farm and Neighbours) and when the titles for The Champions come up with that familiar music I get that old tingle in the back of my brain, which I think is my six-year old self getting excited again. I’m just the same with the 1960s Star Trek titles, and have to admit whenever the theme from The Tomorrow People comes up on the radio (a clip is regularly played on 6Music’s  Radcliffe & Maconie weekend show) I get creeped out a lot, as that 1970s show scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid.

I suppose when I was a kid watching The Champions all those years ago, I would be more forgiving/less critical than I am now. Naturally TV shows back then were, well, obviously TV shows, the gap between TV production and film production more obvious than it is now (thanks to HBO and streamers like Netflix, television shows can have productions values better than some movies these days). Anyway, I doubt my young self noticed characters walking past the same set dressing of a rock outcropping several times. Outside locations were often created in the studio with obvious limitations, and so it was with the Tibetan mountains in which our three heroes crashed in this first episode. Ah, but we were so much more forgiving back then.

Anyway, time for best and worst- best film this week was Black Sea,  something I stumbled upon on Netflix. A submarine/heist thriller starring Jude Law, it had its issues and didn’t fulfil the potential of its interesting premise but its the best of an average week. Worst of the week, well, here’s a surprise, its not a Sartana film – no, that honour goes to Bullet Train. You can read my review to see why that topped a Sartana movie in the badness stakes (well, its some kind of achievement I suppose).

Sergio Sollima’s The Big Gundown (1966)

biggundownThe Big Gundown, Dir. Sergio Sollima, 1966, 111 mins, Blu-ray

Ah, movie connections… not always planned, but viewed from the perspective of years later, we can follow them like a trail of  breadcrumbs. It was entirely Tomas Milian’s wonderful performance in The Big Gundown that led me to the 1976 crime thriller The Tough Ones which I reviewed yesterday. That’s the trouble with enjoying films and collecting them, one film can easily lead to another, and then another… sometimes its seeing an actor for the first time (as in the case with Milian here), sometimes its being impressed by the work of a director. You wonder what else they did, and the curiosity gets the better of you.

While Milian’s performance here led me to The Tough Ones and Free hand for a Tough Cop, which were surprising encounters in many ways, another series of connections led me in another direction; The Big Gundown was directed by Sergio Sollima, a director who I had never heard of just a little while ago, but this film led me to his crime drama Revolver and another western,  Run, Man, Run (a sequel to The Big Gundown  – a very good film albeit tonally rather removed from its predecessor). 

The Big Gundown stars the always great Lee Van Cleef, who at the time was fresh from Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Van Cleef is excellent in the film, and this may well be his best performance; physically he’s like some kind of western icon here, with a huge presence onscreen. There’s a solidity, a sense of reality, to his character. The Big Gundown was a step up for Van Cleef, and although his character, lawman Johnny Corbett was very much in the same tough-guy mould as the characters he played in Leone’s films, this film offered him the distinction of playing the lead hero with an excellent script affording him some decent character development, certainly with a level of sophistication unusual in a spaghetti western; indeed as far as spaghetti westerns go, The Big Gundown stands head and shoulders above most, and is even up there with Leone’s films in terms of quality.

Johnny Corbett is a man of conviction; hunting down bounties without much interest in the financial reward, rather he’s more concerned with cleaning up the west so that decent honest people  can live their lives in peace. So successful has he been, and admired, he’s possibly on the cusp of a political career, and a position on the Senate. A businessman, Brookston (Walter Barnes) uses Corbett’s political ambition to his advantage when he recruits Corbett to hunt down a Mexican peasant, Cuchillo (Tomas Milan) who has been accused of raping and murdering a twelve-year old girl. Brookston promises Corbett that if the lawman can capture Cuchillo he will use his many contacts to help Corbett become a Senator.

biggundown2What follows, then, should be a fairly routine manhunt across wide western landscapes, with the lead character eventually bringing the criminal to justice, but The Big Gundown has a few surprises. most notably that it turns Cuchillo, who initially seems a thoroughly repulsive character, a scoundrel, thief and womaniser, into someone who charms the audience through a magnificent, energetic performance by Milian, essentially stealing the film from Van Cleef. Its no mistake that the film’s sequel Run, Man, Run promoted Milian to the lead rather than bring back Van Cleef.

The Big Gundown has a largely episodic narrative, Van Cleef pursuing his quarry and being repeatedly thwarted, and slowly we, and Corbett, begin to realise that Cuchillo is actually innocent of the charges made against him. It gradually dawns upon Corbett who is truly guilty, and he realises to his ire that he has been hired to seal an injustice. The various narrative threads wind towards the titular Big Gundown when Corbett and Cuchillo face the true culprit and the forces that protect him.

Its a great movie. The direction is confident and imaginative, with a great eye for composition in the widescreen frame that’s often worthy of Leone (its inevitable to make that comparison, this being an Italian western). The screenplay in particular is very well done, with some great character arcs for both Van Cleef and Milian, and while it honours familiar western tropes (such as the showdown at the end) it features plenty of surprises too.

biggundown3Indicator’s superlative Blu-ray (I particularly enjoyed the archive interviews with Sollima and Milian) contains three cuts of the film- I watched the longer, Italian theatrical cut with the Italian audio. I shall be curious to watch at least one of the two US cuts, reduced from 111 minutes down to 89 minutes originally and later 95 minutes, if only to hear Van Cleef’s voice (its a little odd watching the Italian dub when it isn’t Van Cleef voicing his character). The longer Italian version can  be watched with an English dub (so one can hear Van Cleef), but as that dub was originally recorded for the 89 minute version, it occasionally reverts back to Italian dub and English subs for those moments originally cut. This actually makes for an interesting exercise, as I watched twenty minutes or so with that English dub and its fascinating how the editors must have cut lines of dialogue to shorten scenes to arrive at that 89 minute film; I am endlessly bemused by how editors craft shorter versions of scenes together by taking out a line here, a line there, a reaction shot there…

The Tough Ones (1976)

toughones2The Tough Ones aka Rome Armed to the Teeth, Dir. Umberto Lenzi, 1976, 95 mins, Blu-ray

More Italian mimicry of American Cinema, this time taking inspiration from Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry and William Friedkin’s The French Connection – indeed The Tough Ones is a curious combination of those two films, stylistically as well as narratively. The synopsis is hard to resist- a tough cop who breaks the rules to bring criminal scum to justice pursues a machine-gun wielding hunchback and his bank-robbing cronies. Seriously, Rome might be a nice place for a tourist to visit, but on the evidence of this film I wouldn’t have wanted to live there.

Released in 1976, I’m certain that The Tough Ones (Rome, Armed to the Teeth in its native country) was a daring, cutting-edge and controversial film at the time. Maybe coming to it nearly fifty years later (by way of 88 Films’ 2-disc Blu-ray) it is inevitable that it has aged somewhat; we’ve seen so many vengeful cops, crazy bad guys, and increasingly graphic onscreen violence over the years since, there is almost something quaint about this film now that reasons for it’s original  notoriety has been left behind somewhat. Except that, even now, some of this film’s excesses still feel surprising, particularly in our wiser, more informed times- well, I say surprising, but considering the misogyny and wanton disregard for life demonstrated in spaghetti westerns of the 1960s/1970s, maybe those trends continuing unabated in Italian crime cinema shouldn’t be such a shock. There is much within The Tough Ones that is thoroughly unpleasant and typical of its time; however, compared to those spaghetti western cousins, this film can be considered complex and nuanced, and it is certainly well executed. It’s a solid, entertaining and effective crime thriller. Its influences are unabashedly clear : a car chase with a on-hood camera offering a vicarious element similar to that of The French Connection‘s classic chase sequence, and the episodic nature of the narrative reprises Harry Callahan’s habit of dealing with whatever criminal scum  crosses his path.

toughones1As an avowed fan of 1970s cinema, I found much that was worthy in The Tough Ones. The films rough, hard-hitting narrative has a perfectly judged, gritty soundtrack score that feels purely of its era (shades maybe of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three). Tomas Milian is short-changed, really, as the chief antagonist, the hunchback Moretto – there’s no character development to speak of, and his screen-time is surprisingly short, but he certainly makes a big impact. Actors love chewing up the scenery when playing bad guys and Milian is evidently having a blast. As the Dirty Harry wannabe, Maurizio Merli is pretty fine playing no-nonsense Inspector Tanzi, Maurizio sporting a full-on 70s stache, snarling his frustrations at liberals around him and naturally smoking and drinking in ways no film hero probably could now outside of noir, but nonetheless Merli seems positively restrained compared to Milian’s theatrics. I think comparisons to Eastwood’s iconic character do him few favours though- who, after all, could possibly measure up to Eastwood’s Harry Callahan? The odds were stacked up against Merli from the start, but I guess that’s the danger being so obvious regards influence. That said, some might argue there’s a bit more depth and subtlety to Merli’s Inspector Tanzi than ever we see in Eastwood’s Harry Callahan.

Sartana: Spaghetti Angel

sartana1If You Meet Sartana…Pray for Your Death, Dir. Gianfranco Parolini, 1968, 95 mins , Blu-ray

I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death, Dir. Giuliano Carnimeo, 1969, 103 mins, Blu-ray

Other than the Sergio Leone westerns, my experience of spaghetti westerns is really quite limited, and on the evidence of these Sartana films, I am beginning to doubt that Leone’s films qualify as spaghetti westerns at all. Well, of course they do, but the gap in quality between Leone’s hugely cinematic, well-crafted pleasures and tosh such as these two is really so night and day it feels to me that describing Leone’s films as part of the same sub-genre is doing them a terrible disservice. Leone’s films are so much better, so much… classier.

One’s really in the cinematic trash bucket with these Sartana films, but to be fair to them, they are hardly attempting to be Cinematic Art (Leone’s passion for cinema, particularly American Cinema, resulted in his films always having loftier ambitions). No, the Sartana films, like many spaghetti westerns, are dirty, violent, misogynistic, one-note affairs that seem to get dafter with every passing reel. In these films, life is cheap and dirty, the jokes immature and often falling flat, and the climbing kill-counts more hilarious than alarming.

I approached these films expecting as much, and they didn’t disappoint. To be fair to them, you simply can’t treat them seriously; they are pure exploitation, the Italian film industry obviously seeing an opportunity to make money (and they did) on the heels of a 1960s re-evaluation of the American Western, at least partly instigated by Leone (its unfair to credit Leone with that alone). These are cheap, pulp-fiction paperbacks, such as you’d see on carrousel racks at train stations, airports etc, disposable reads, here brought to vivid, gory life as cheap film entertainments. If you expect simple, fairly illogical plots mostly written to link scenes of violent gunplay, with little to no character development and pretty poor acting, then you are tuned to watch them and get some enjoyment, of a sort. Although you may feel a little dirty afterwards (but hey, there’s always Leone to cleanse ones palette, and as we will see, there are other more rewarding efforts to rescue the spaghetti western brand).

Starring as the titular character, Gianni Garko makes for a fantastic poor-man’s Clint Eastwood,  Garko an actor who physically fits the part like a glove and proves the chief saving grace of the films. Not without considerable charm and screen charisma, I rather suspect he would have been capable of carrying better, more ambitious films and more complex writing. As it is, I rather suspect he is in on the joke from the start, well aware of the limitations of the films he is in. He’s clearly the best thing in these two films and what makes the films bearable.

If I were to write down the plots of these two films… well, it’d be hard. They are inherently very simple affairs but so full of twists and turns (if only to facilitate each and every gunfight) that as each film progresses they feel increasingly incomprehensible. Its almost quite amusing: I’m tempted to rewatch the films with a counter to add up all the deaths/dead bodies, and must confess had a good chuckle when in a later scene characters walked around a room trashed with dead bodies from a gunfight some scenes earlier, casually ignoring the bodies, as if its simply not time for the cleaners to start their shift yet. I think that was the moment I think I’d finally keyed-in, or tuned-into, the film and started to enjoy it even though I knew I shouldn’t.

The first film involves an insurance scam with several parties chasing a big box full of gold and lots of bodies left in the ensuing wake.  The film likely tips its nonsensical hat when, after we witness an elderly couple shot dead in cold blood and their bodies left in the sand, Sartana is apparently gunned down only to rise as if from the dead moments later, remaining as indestructible as Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet for the rest of the film. The film portrays Sartana as some kind of outsider, on the outskirts of events, indeed usually one step ahead of everyone and entering scenes simply to wreak some deadly justice, almost like some kind of decidedly hands-on Angel in a rather violent spin of Wings of Desire, but the Sartana films certainly don’t seem interested in any such religious readings, apart from in its titles.

If anything the films seem more like the 1950s television serial The Lone Ranger turned into a horror series, replacing the clean-cut moral code of the first with dirty warts-and-all violence and misogyny. I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death suggests that Sartana is quite famous within his in-movie universe, when somebody dresses up as him (as if wearing a superhero costume) in order to frame Sartana for a robbery – the plot of the film, such as it is, being one of Sartana trying to clear his name. Here the film suggests perhaps the mantle of superhero movie in Western guise, partly no doubt excusing its silly excesses as some Marvel entry would today (“its only a spaghetti western” the same as “its only a superhero movie”). Which suggests the level one should be viewing these films; live-action cartoons far removed from Leone’s films, and certainly any Western John Wayne would have appeared in.

Sergio Sollima’s Revolver (1973)

Itallian3Revolver, 1973, Dir. Sergio Sollima, 11 mins, Blu-Ray

Well, something of a curio- my first exposure to Italian crime cinema is this fine Blu-ray edition from Eureka. I wonder what kind of sub-genre rabbit-hole I may have unearthed… (the Italians made lots of these crime-thrillers, I gather). It also serves as my introduction to Italian director Sergio Sollima. My ignorance regards Italian directors is profound-  I know of Sergio Leone, obviously, but other than Sergio Corbucci (The Great Silence) that’s about it.

Revolver is a very solid film, rewarding in all sorts of ways. Oliver Reed plays Vito Cipriani, an Italian prison warden married to beautiful, albeit dubiously young, Anna (Agostina Belli). The age difference here (when the film was shot, Reed would have been a  slightly overweight, drunk and unfit 34 and Agostina a svelt 23 years old) likely betrays its age, and how male actors were habitually cast with flatteringly young romantic interests (I remember Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett in Saturn 3)- in this case, Agostina could have gotten away with playing Reed’s daughter. This age gap is accentuated by a very odd love-making scene, after which Anne is kidnapped, and the kidnappers demand that a French prisoner, Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi), be released in order for Vito to get his wife back. Vito arranges Milo’s escape from his prison but then kidnaps Milo himself, to ensure the kidnappers return his wife safely. What follows is a decidedly violent game of cat and mouse, crossing from Italy to France, as both men try to discover who wants Milo released and why (Milo has no ‘freinds’ and no idea why anyone would be in the slightest bit interested in his freedom). The desperate lawman and escaped convict gradually form an unlikely  bond (shades of, and possibly an influence on, the later Midnight Run here), eventually unearthing a massive conspiracy involving high government and lowlife criminals in a film that proves to be very dark and nihilistic, perfectly capturing themes of paranoia so common it was almost a cultural zeitgeist in American cinema of the early 1970s, but obviously giving it a very European spin.

rev1I’m not certain what it was, but something struck a chord in me regards this film – maybe it was that delicious feel of 1970s paranoia which is gradually becoming both prescient and timely here in 2023, with corruption in authority seemingly increasingly common and individuals in society feeling less control of their lives and situation. Maybe its Oliver Reed’s very good, albeit bizarre, performance (a Brit playing an Italian with, of all things, an American accent?). Its actually remarkable how good Reed is in this, when one considers how drunk he apparently was most of the time- he started drinking early and by mid-afternoon it was allegedly not worth filming him in any scenes. Maybe its the excellent soundtrack score by Ennio Morricone, with its typically lush, romantic sweep that is hugely cinematic (the love theme was later used by Quentin Tarantino in his film Inglourious Basterds), but which is otherwise sprinkled with a relentless, propulsive rhythm that influenced his more widely-known score for The Untouchables a decade or so later. I don’t know if it was just simply the gritty setting with its curious, 1970s fashions/cars and horrible, miserable city streets. Or maybe its the exquisite cinematography by Aldo Scavarda, whose tendency for golden-hour shots makes everything look so pretty while also so unrelentingly dismal. Maybe its the art direction and canny location shooting. Maybe its a combination of all the above, that curious alchemy that makes some films better than their individual parts would usually warrant.

Whatever it is, Revolver just works. Credit for this must naturally fall upon director Sergio Sollima – a highly-regarded western he shot before this, The Big Gundown, is next on my list, finally being released by Indicator after a few months of production delays (curiously now arriving after the films sequel, Run, Man, Run, (also directed by Sollima) has been released on Blu-ray by Eureka). How curious that so many Blu-ray releases of Sollima’s films are getting released of late. Some kind of serendipity perhaps.

The Weekly Summary #6

Well its late by a few days but for what its worth, here’s what I watched last week-

18. Revolver (1973) – Blu-ray

From the Earth to the Moon Episodes 5 & 6 – Blu-ray

19. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972)

…and I’m afraid that’s it, my worst week this year. Pretty appalling really, and hardly the Italian cinema week I was expecting it to be when I started with Sergio Sollima’s Revolver, which was an excellent introduction to Italian crime cinema, a sub-genre (?) that I’ve never dabbled with at all. I need to get my review post completed but suffice to say I thought it was a great little movie, enlivened by a powerful turn from Oliver Reed. I was never a great fan of Reed, when I was growing up as a kid I just couldn’t understand his drunken antics (his Parkinson interview THAT Saturday night for one) and just ignored him afterwards- I think it wasn’t until his last role in Gladiator (and hell, I only saw THAT performance because it was a Ridley Scott movie) that I began to seperate his work from the real-life persona that irked me so much. I’ve seen some of his early appearances in Hammer films over the past year or two via Indicator’s box-sets and he’s been fine, sometimes very good, in them, but I can’t say I’m a Reed enthusiast at all. In Revolver though he is very good. Sports an American accent though for some unfathomable reason, but perhaps more on that in the proper review.

So I also watched two more episodes of From the Earth to the Moon (including my beloved episode ‘Spider’)  and then this really obscure old-school supernatural film from 1972, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, which was really, really strange. It at the very least got me enthused enough to post a review. I’ve been wondering over the past few days, if Indicator announced a Blu-ray with some extensive special features, would I actually buy it, and I possibly would. It is such an odd film; terrible in some ways but just so curiously strange I don’t think I’d be able to resist the temptation of an Indicator edition that ‘opened the box’ on some of the mystery. Lets hope I never get tested…

So anyway, next week, more Sergio Sollima. And I have every intention of at least TRYING to watch Blade Runner on my birthday…

The Weekly Summary #5

from2Repeats. Don’t you just hate them? Well, the bane of British Summer Television arrives early; here’s the (few) things I watched this past week-

First Man (2018) – 4K UHD

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – 4K UHD

From the Earth to the Moon (1998) (TV series Episodes 1 – 4) – Blu-ray

The Dark Knight (2008) – 4K UHD

So there you go, nothing new at all. Well, it was one of those weeks I guess, but to be fair, I often look at all those films on my shelves and think, “yeah, I’d love to watch that again sometime” or, as in the case of From the Earth to the Moon (which I originally watched back in 1998), I looked at the Blu-ray edition which I bought back in -gasp, shudder- 2019 and realised I had STILL not watched it yet, other than my favourite episode, Spider, which I rate as one of my favourite hours of television, ever…

There’s certainly a value to returning to films and television shows, if only that it partly justifies having bought them on disc in the first place, as opposed to a rental fee or streaming something once for what we fool ourselves as ‘free’ on Amazon Prime or Netflix. I’ll be honest, I could forgo watching anything ‘new’ at all and just rewatch all those Hammer and Noir boxsets from Indicator, or all those TV boxsets I have like the BSG reboot, Fringe, Person of Interest, Chuck, Space:1999, UFO, The Prisoner…  there’s so many hours there and hey, I’d enjoy all of it. Maybe I should cancel my Netflix sub after all…

Of course, the other thing is rewatching films and revaluating them; was that film REALLY that good (or indeed was it really that bad)? Now, two of the films I rewatched are still fairly recent so I was hardly expecting to be surprised, and I wasn’t: First Man and Top Gun: Maverick were both as great as I remembered. Indeed, Maverick just amazed me again; it is so good a blockbuster entertainment- yes some of the dialogue was clunky, the plot never surprised and the romance felt as forced and unnecessary as it did first time around, but crikey, it just works so well, if only as, well, a blockbuster film. Is that damning it with faint praise?

The Dark Knight was more interesting. I hadn’t seen it for several years, and have seen Ben Affleck’s Batman since as well as Robert Pattinson’s Batman too. Its a sobering thought that I’ve seen two further caped crusaders since I last saw Christian Bale’s rendition (I expect another isn’t far away, either). I remember that, back in 2008, The Dark Knight was generally considered to be the best comicbook movie ever made, the definitive Batman, and I’m sure many still feel that way (for the record, I’ll always feel that Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie is the definitive comicbook movie). What still holds true regards what makes The Dark Knight as special as it is, is Heath Ledger’s Joker; his performance still took my breath away, he was so good and certainly stole the film from everyone else (and will no doubt be the bane of every actor cast as the Joker, ever).

One thing I always thought, and still did when rewatching it last night, was regards Aaron Eckhart (who is brilliant as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, by the way). Dismiss me as crazy as the Joker, but I thought Eckhart would  have made for a great Batman. Its his jawline: he’d be brilliant in that Batman cowl, he’s so square-jawed he looks so like Brian Bolland’s Batman, and he’s got the build too. As unlikely as it might sound, just watch him in The Dark Knight and for a moment imagine him in the cowl etc. You might just be surprised.

As far as From the Earth to the Moon is concerned, the show holds up as well as ever. Its so well written. Every hour is just so well constructed. Its interesting that, as its over twenty years old now, the cast is some kind of time capsule of the great actors of its day, some of whom you might not know their names, but you know their faces, and some indeed who would go on to far greater things (such as Bryan Cranston with Breaking Bad, obviously). What I absolutely adore regards this show is its music: episodes composed by Michael Kame, Mark Isham, James Newton Howard,  Jeff Beal and other greats, this has some of the best music composed for any television series, and incredibly its never been given a proper soundtrack release. A terrible injustice. Maybe one day (hey, it took decades for that Star Trek: TOS complete box release).

So what’s coming next week? Well, I think we might be going Italian…