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Los ojos azules de la muñeca rota

Seventies Euro Slasher Whodunit
A drifter takes a job as caretaker of an estate owned by three eccentric and beautiful sisters, all of whom are maimed either emotionally or physically by mysterious pasts. The guy, himself, has ominous flashbacks. Someone is going around murdering women to music that sounds like "I Dream of Jeannie," then cutting out their eyeballs. He/she--all you ever see of the killer is a pair of black gloves--wants their eyeballs. Is it the drifter, the doctor, the nurse, the cop, the sexpot, the invalid, or the bitter, maimed spinster? This Spanish film starring Paul Naschy is well filmed by the director of "Horror Rises From the Tomb." It knows how to build tension, use music, etc. Excellent use of old French kids' song. The ending is well worth sticking around for, unlike many Italian gialli that are stylish and thrilling, but anticlimactic. Some of the gore effects aren't so convincing and some of the plot points are laughably illogical, but these characteristics just add to the enjoyment. Watched it twice. Sexy, bloody fun.

Confessione di un commissario di polizia al procuratore della repubblica

Lived-in thriller, cop on the edge
Political thriller by Damiano Damiani (BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, HOW TO KILL A JUDGE) that creates a world so vivid that every time I watch it, I forget Franco Nero didn't dub his own voice. The opening scene takes place in a Sicilian mad house, hundreds of years old, fortified with decaying stone. It is here that we first hear Riz Ortolani's amazing theme, a fuzz-tone guitar and a melancholy orchestra, and the ranting and moans of madmen. We see Captain Bonavia (Martin Balsam, who did dub his own voice) arrange for the release of LiPuma, a psychotic criminal obsessed with cleanliness who is no sooner free than he makes an attempt on the life of a gangster named D'Ambrosio, which results in the deaths of Lipuma and several of D'Ambrosio's thugs, but not D'Ambrosio. It is immediately hinted that Bonavia arranged for LiPuma's release for just this reason. The mystery here isn't who did what, but why he did it, and who you're supposed to root for: Captain Bonavia, the official made cynical and allegedly irresponsible by years on the job, who may or may not be motivated by graft, or DA Traini (Franco Nero), who investigates the attempt on D'Ambrosio's life. Traini is young and idealistic and immediately suspects Bonavia's involvement. Bonavia is fifty going on a hundred and mocks Traini at every turn as he fills him in on the history of a city built, literally, on corpses. Damiani underlines the similarities between these two men--does Traini embody the idealism Bonavia lost, are they both just stooges of a corrupt, ancient system--in subtle ways, and he, along with Balsam, builds Bonavia's character with equal aplomb. You can watch this film repeatedly and see these subtleties, equal credit for which must go to Balsam's performance, which is one of his best, which is saying a lot. Minor characters, like LiPuma and his hunted sister, Serena, come across with enough depth to exacerbate the tension. Riz Ortolani's score chimes in at just the right moments to intensify the drama, which is what this really is, a drama that grabs you by the guts. Damiani's ability to create this kind of film, angry and topical, anti-establishment, but so lived-in, it never feels forced, deserves greater recognition. This one, especially, should be required viewing, despite the fact that I've never seen it in any form other than a cheesy DVD that probably capitalized on public domain and is dubbed (it should be noted that the Italians dubbed most of their films, even the Italian versions, and were good at it) and has glitches that lead me to believe it was mastered from VHS. Don't avoid; the integrity of the film survives.

Seraphim Falls

Immensely disappointing.
Revenge western that starts in the cold of the mountains and ends in the desert; this interesting metaphor for the spiritual descent of two violent characters is one of the only good things about this film. Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, and Michael Wincott all give good performances; a lot of the others are stiff and two-dimensional, which actually could be blamed, I suppose, on the script. Anjelica Huston and Wes Studi are great, as always, but in roles that turn up toward the end of the film in lame attempts at being mystical. This film is not "mystical," nor is it "gothic," nor is it "dark," in the manner of, say, KEOMA, MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, THE PROPOSITION, or Cormac McCarthy's writing, most of which I've heard it called or compared to, which is why I can't begin to express my disappointment upon finally seeing this relatively well-directed and acted but scripted-by-numbers film. The best scenes take place near the beginning, where Brosnan is alone surviving in the wilderness, operating on himself, and cooking his food. He makes lots of good noises to which I can relate when he's alone and struggling and the detail is impressive. But we quickly fall into gaps in logic, such as, for instance, if Brosnan is going to make several sets of tracks when he flees his campsite to separate his enemies, why does he only bother to kill one of them and why does it take him so long to do even that? And if Neeson only had one bullet, what the hell is he going to do with that empty gun? I know how these things can be explained away, but those explanations do not work for me. The film quickly becomes a film of pursuit, with various boring characters being encountered along the way, that we know from the start will inevitably end one of two ways, as a revenge story must, but the thing this movie fails to realize is that within both those physical possibilities are a wide variety of psychological and emotional ones, and the psychological/emotional road taken here is one that's older than film itself that is not played out with any kind of vision or point of view that moves me at all. The series of flashbacks that eventually tell us why Neeson is pursuing Brosnan ends in a reveal that would probably work in a Roy Rogers or Fess Parker movie but contains absolutely nothing to justify its being done, once again, fifty years later. I will be the first to tell you that the western, a genre I can't get enough of, has been around as long as narrative film and is almost never about originality of plot; it's about what goes on between the plot points, dialog, scenery, style, character. The scenery is actually beautifully shot, but none of that other stuff is made to work here in any way that justifies the amount of hullabaloo I heard about this film.

Kulay dugo ang gabi

Entertaining Filipino vampire schlock.
An evil genius vampire whose minions include a hunchback, a midget, a hot chick with sunglasses, and a rubber bat tries to save the life of his vampire lover by transplanting her with the heart of her long, lost sister. The sister, inconveniently, is still alive. Plays at times like an Ed Wood movie, at others like a classic, albeit low-budget, horror film. Made in the Philippines, which lends jungle atmosphere, interesting architecture, and enough catholic iconography to satisfy the Pope. Badly dubbed in English, including the fact that three completely different characters are, evidently, supposed to be mute and make the exact same, "Uhn, uhn, uhn," noises in the exact same voice, which is blissfully confusing. Features one singing cowboy scene, Captain Kirk-style martial arts, and a musical score that sounds like it could be library tracks but nonetheless is very effective. The film is sometimes black and white, sometimes color, and sometimes tinted a garish magenta, which actually works to heighten the atmosphere at least part of the time. Anyone who has read this far and is still interested will not be disappointed.


Action-packed, beautifully shot revenge western
East German western from 1973 with a revenge plot involving the massacre of Apache by white mercenaries in the employ of both the US and Mexican governments in which the heroes are Apache. Well directed and beautifully shot, apparently in Romania and Uzbekistan, and the eighth of twelve westerns from the point of view of various tribes starring, and in this case co-written by, Gojko Mitic, who was a star in Eastern Europe because of these films.

APACHES was made in a communist country during the cold war and it's easy to see what the angle may have been, how the "white eyes" villains could represent capitalism, especially during a scene in which the Apache steal the water and horses from a band of travelers, leaving them stranded in the desert, then sit back and watch as they kill each other off. They are self-centered and greedy, thus unable to cooperate long enough to survive a bad situation. The indigenous tribes, known for boundless generosity to those not their enemies, not having a concept of private property, could easily fit the socialist ideal. Not the reality, mind you, but the ideal.

What's really funny, though, is that this movie, by the standards of what we know today, really doesn't play like propaganda. It feels much more authentic than any Spaghetti Western I've seen on the subject--NAVAJO JOE immediately comes to mind--and at times even plays like "Blood Meridian" from the point of view of the Indians. It was supposedly based on research of a real-life massacre that occurred at the beginning of the Mexican-American war.

The costumes and production design are great and the action scenes are great and despite all my prattling about sociopolitical context, it's an entertaining western, which I'm sure is what it was intended to be. The villain looks a lot like the Italian actor Piero Lulli, smokes a giant cigar, and uses a whip. The music sometimes reminds me of Spaghetti Westerns, especially Stelvio Cipriani's score for THE UGLY ONES, but ultimately has a style all its own.

The First Run DVD has a ten-minute trailer featuring scenes from this and other East German westerns that ends by announcing, "All this material will be restaurated soon." I'm definitely anxious to find out how soon.

Sitting Target

Spare, tense, vicious, a must.
Under-appreciated British crime thriller with antisocial characters and an antisocial plot: a convict finds out his wife is pregnant by another man, so he busts out of prison to hunt her down with every intention of killing her. No time wasted on "redeeming" characters. No goofy humor or chase scenes through clubs playing bad, dated music. Just a spare, tense study of two vicious men (Oliver Reed, Ian McShane) hot on the trail of a treacherous moll (Jill St. John). A nemesis detective (Edward Woodward) tries to intervene, but never fouls the nihilistic tone. Solid performances and one of Reed's best as an uber-thug who does push-ups on the ceiling of his jail cell, is sitting on a volcano, and only lets on what he has to, even to his partner. The script does the same thing, imparting information on a need-to-know basis, doing so smoothly as it races toward Hell. All in the back-lots and stygian prisons of a cold, drab London, with a musical score by Stanley Myers that perfectly enhances the story and mood. A must for fans of seventies crime thrillers, British or otherwise, that take no prisoners.

Joshuu sasori: Kemono-beya

Very Japanese, very seventies, very much something else entirely
This is Shunya Ito's final entry in the FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION series, starring the great Meiko Kaji. The series, based on a Japanese manga, follows the exploits of a woman unjustly imprisoned, brutalized by guards and fellow inmates, who defends herself with such aplomb, she becomes a jail-house legend. The other convicts nickname her Sasori, which means Scorpion. Over the course of two films, she escapes to wreak vengeance against the man who got her busted, is sent back for his murder, and escapes again; the second film ends with Sasori on the loose.

This, the third film, focuses on Sasori's life as a fugitive outside the walls. In an eye-opening first scene, Sasori evades detectives on a subway train; she comes out of it handcuffed to one of the detectives' arms, but not the rest of him. She flees to a slum which consists of a red-light district run by a forced-prostitution ring and a residential area made up of a mud street and shacks, where she is put up for the night and befriended by a lonely prostitute named Yuki. We soon discover that Yuki gives of herself on a nightly basis to her brain-damaged brother, who she keeps locked in a closet. Sasori tries to lead a normal life, taking a job as a seamstress and renting her own apartment, but she and Yuki soon meet again and are both embroiled in a plot that involves the Cruella De Ville-from-hell madam who runs the prostitution ring and the detective from the subway (Mikio Narita, a regular in Kinji Fukasaku films), who by God wants his arm back.

What follows is an atmospheric noir/horror yarn--it takes elements from both and uses them well--that applies Ito's flair for the visual to a mood that is different from the first two SCORPION films, yet bears the same unmistakable signature. A scene involving lit matches falling into a sewer tunnel is especially beautiful. Ito's use of sound, like when Sasori is incessantly scraping the handcuffs with the arm against a tombstone in an attempt to free herself, is as effective here as ever. He also employs silence more than usual, as if by virtue of a newly honed minimalism. This goes along with the relatively subdued tone of the first section of the film, which allows space to explore Sasori's and others' characters. Things pick up by the end, though it's all handled with a dreamier rhythm than the previous films. This is an asset. Each of the three films has its own style, I realize now, and seeing this one made me go back and watch the first, appreciating it more than before.

Meiko Kaji gives her usual amazing performance as Sasori, emoting silently, standing or moving or pouncing or maiming with a grace that switches seamlessly between human and animal. The pathos present in all three films is largely due to the human side of this grace, which never inhibits the films' darker aspects. Reportedly, Kaji, who did one more SCORPION film after this one, had as much to do with developing the character for film as Ito, not only in her performances, but off-camera as well. This film is a worthy swan song for the collaboration. Very Japanese, very seventies, very much something else entirely.

Hell Raiders

HELL RAIDERS: Raw, exciting, surprisingly ironic
This Indonesian war epic from Rapi studios, the people who brought us THE DEVIL'S SWORD, plays, at some times, with the slanted melodrama of a vintage American WW II pic, and, at others, with the irony and emotional intensity of Sam Fuller on top of his game. It tells the story of a guerrilla army from an Indonesian village during the war with the Dutch in 1945. It has the highest production values of any Rapi film I've seen, which isn't saying much, but what it lacks in resources, it more than makes up for with its crackling energy and genuine heart. The initiated will note that this is true of any Rapi film available in English, most of which are lore-heavy horror or martial-arts fantasy tempered with a weirdness that's never been exceeded by films made anywhere else in the world.

What sets this one apart is its realized ambition. This is no B-movie diversion; this is a sweat-dripping labor of love. It has an ensemble cast which includes, but in no way defers to, the best-known action star of Indonesia's film boom of the nineteen-eighties, Barry Prima. It's notable that Prima played the comic-book folk-hero fighting the Dutch colonials in the early nineteenth century crowd-pleaser THE WARRIOR. Here he fights them a century later, with guns and grenades, rather than sorcery and swords. He gives a fine performance as a character, not a hero. The heroism in this film is shared by many, including a thief reformed by his thirst for revenge and at least two women who fight, in completely credible roles, with at least as much grit as the men in the film.

The characters' weaknesses are likewise shared, and that's just one of the things that gives HELL RAIDERS its surprising ability to haunt the viewer long after it ends. Another is a bloodless image of the effects of torture created by an actress and an up-close camera. Another manifests in arresting moments of the aforementioned irony, which work due to the skillful cohesiveness of the complex script that sets them up. Despite an understandable and certainly not unique tendency to villainize the enemy, HELL RAIDERS possesses humanity, honesty, and insight that place it far above, say, a MISSING IN ACTION film.

Despite the transcendence, there's plenty of gore, shock value, and pulse-pounding action to enhance the other elements, thanks, in no small part, to art director El Badrun, the special-effects master of Indonesia. This guy can create, in a hut in the middle of a freaking jungle, more interesting and creative spectacle than ten-thousand art-school key-jockeys in Hollywood.

The film's roughly two-hour running time, much like its budget, far exceeds that of the usual Rapi film. I highly recommend investing that time, as well as the time and/or money it takes to find a copy of this precious little piece of obscure world cinema.

The Driver

Nocturnal urban crime thriller...
Nocturnal urban crime thriller that is more about style than realism stars Ryan O'Neal as a professional getaway driver and Bruce Dern as his obsessed-cop nemesis. With its spare dialogue and stoic delivery, it plays like a distinctly American homage to French crime auteur Jean-Pierre Melville (LE SAMOURAI), right down to the mysterious woman (Isabelle Adjani) who provides an alibi for the opening caper. Director Walter Hill makes excellent use of locations, wardrobe, and vehicle paint schemes to create a world that is lawless, eerie, and desolate, sleek and colorless, where the days are short and the nights are very, very long.

The "distinctly American" part comes as a series of tense, brutal car chases. These drive the movie, but they do it in a way that transcends their sub-genre and fits the mood. The wrecks don't burn, they scrape and slide and leave trails of crumpled steel. This high-speed symphony, enhanced, throughout, by Michael Small's score, never grows tedious; it builds on itself and crescendos when it should.

Dern, whose usual down-home demeanor is here a tissue-thin veil over spit-house lunacy, runs his elite detective squad out of vans and barrooms; there is no police station. Wraith-like Adjani, always watching, rarely speaking, has an aura that perforates the screen. Rudy Ramos, who gave a memorable one-scene performance as a howling bandit in the Dirty Harry film THE ENFORCER, here plays a villain who takes to the landscape like a mad dog to a junkyard.

When the cast credits roll, even the headliners have generic labels instead of character names, The Driver, The Detective, The Player, The Connection, maintaining the bare-bones feel until the screen goes black.

Lumaban ka, Satanas

A jean-jacket-wearing champion named Lando must travel to a cave to rescue his daughter from the forces of evil. A Filippino amalgam of Christianity and other religions appears to be the basis for this bizarre fantasy adventure. It has a budget as low as Geek Maggot Bingo and acting that makes William Shatner look like a candidate for knighthood. Guys zap each other with magical rays that appear to have been drawn on the film with crayons. Rubber snakes turn into naked people. Nudity, gore and implied rape co-exist quite happily with a child-like innocence that's at the story's heart...I don't have the cultural background to process this film properly, I'm sure, which is what makes it so damn entertaining. I am now hanging my head in shame and questioning my own gratuitous use of the phrase "WTF" up to this point, because this film is clearly what it was meant for all along.

See it.

Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore

Holy Moly.
This one really pushes the envelope on "ends justify the means" police tactics, even compared to the other Italian cop-thrillers I've seen. The two protagonists are cops who belong to an "anti-gang" squad...that means, in this case, that they actually act like gangsters. They're nihilistic, sexist a-holes. They like blowing things up for fun. They shoot criminals BEFORE they commit crimes. A gangster wants them out of the picture and has one of their colleagues shot; from there on, they actively engage in gang warfare. That's the plot.

The dialog is not at all clever. The premise is set up lazily and has no authenticity to it. The musical score is light-weight, typical 70's cop-thriller fare.

It's consistently entertaining, however. Whether laughing out loud or gasping in shock, I was never bored. There's plenty of eye-popping violence on a level with "Violent Naples" to satisfy fans in that department. The ending is very abrupt, surprising, and cool; it gives the whole rest of the movie a darker tone.

I definitely recommend it to fans of violent, Italian cop-thrillers from the 1970's, or any violent cop-thrillers from the 1970's, or good, trashy movies in general.


worth your while
Though a deliberately confusing ending ultimately undermines this film's potential, an excellent cast and unique storytelling approach make it well worth the time for anyone not expecting a straight-forward crime picture.

Director Nick Gomez, also responsible for "Laws of Gravity" and "New Jersey Drive," once again proves that he refuses to be predictable. The former plays like an updated "Mean Streets" overseen by the ghost of John Cassavetes and the latter like a straight-forward entry in the "Boyz in the Hood" sub-genre. "Illtown," on the other hand, is an ultra-stylized revenge/crime thriller mixed with a character drama mixed with wierd surrealism. The only thing I can think of to compare it to, at least on some levels, is Sergio Sollima's equally slow-paced and dreamy "Violent City." The Florida locations fit the mood perfectly. The protagonists are a bunch of laid-back, golf playin' smack dealers one would genuinely enjoy serving in a restaurant or at a ticket counter; the stereotpyes normally attached to their way of life are conspicuously absent. The final shoot-out between Rappaport and Trese is all style and no substance, but in such an oddly good way, it had me gawking with awe.

Lili Taylor, Adam Trese and Kevin Corrigan, all relative unknowns (which irks me), are all great here. Michael Rappaport, while somewhat over-exposed at this point, was also under-appreciated at the time of this film's release. He, Gomez regular Saul Stein, and even the oft-annoying Tony Danza all rise to the material, for which they are aptly cast.

Like I said, the end left me frustrated, but the overall experience is well worth it.

Sella d'argento

Another flawed but interesting Fulci western.
Like the same director's "Four of the Apocalypse," whether or not this film ultimately succeeds for you probably depends on your willingness to tolerate its flaws for its strengths.

Its flaws include bad acting on the parts of Giulliano Gemma and Sven Valsecchi, who are the two leads, a frustrating tendency to establish promising themes, only to allow them to dissipate after the first thirty minutes, and another frustrating tendency to put all the best action scenes in the first act.

Its strengths include the presence of Geoffrey Lewis, Aldo Sambrell, and Donald O'Brien, some excellent classic western action that's filmed with a modern sense of realism (read: BLOOD SQUIBS), and great photography, locations, costumes and sets that give an overall feeling similar to that of Fulci's other 70's western, mentioned above. The musical score, overall, is great and befits the feel and tone, although the hippy-dippy theme song may mar it for some.

For fans of Fulci and/or Italian westerns from the 70's, this is more than worth checking out...between this and "Four..." it's obvious the guy was up to something interesting and cool with his westerns during this time period, it's just too bad he didn't have a better sense of pacing and focus and evidently wasn't aware that you save your best tricks for the end of the movie, not the beginning.

Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia

Coolest plot in an Italian Dirt Harry rip-off!
So far I've seen five of these 70's Italian crime thrillers, 3 of them being straight up, Don Siegel and William Friedkin-influenced "cop on the edge with an axe to grind" Dirty Harry rip-offs. Out of those three, all of which are great, this has got to be the one with the coolest story-line (the other two being "High Crime" and "Violent Naples," to give you an idea of the standard here). While it is neither perfect nor entirely realistic, it is action-packed, bloody and riveting, a cocktail of elements common to the genre. And this particular "cop-on-the-edge," played by Luc Merenda, is so on-the-edge that he "poses" as a pimp muscling in on prostitution rackets with the facility of an old pro, gets innocent bystanders killed without hardly batting an eye, and cold-bloodedly executes surrendering criminals in front of the entire police department!

While he lacks quite the level of charisma and intensity delivered by Franco Nero or Maurizio Merli, Merenda holds his own. The primary reason he is able to do so here (the two secondary are Sergio Martino's competence in directing pulse-pounding action and the fact that the extremity I've come to expect from these films is as present here as anywhere) is the sucker-punch, no, make that downright subversive plot-line. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that what appears to be shaping up into a slanted portrayal of fanatical domestic terrorists (not that groups like the Red Brigade need any slanting to look bad, just that dishonesty bugs me even if it's on the right side) proves later to be something entirely different. The ending of this film, while it would be typical in another context, blew me away.

To top it off, you've got a killer score by the mad De Angelis brothers (if you've seen "Keoma," note that it helps that the only song with words isn't translated into English), and the only fatal car crash I've ever seen in an action movie where the car doesn't inexplicably burst into flames. Three cheers for this gleefully brutal mayhem-fest with the added plus of an intelligent plot!


Two things about this film really bugged me.
One was the music, which belongs in a made-for-Lifetime movie or a Waltons episode. It considerably undermines what at times is a truly intense film. The other was the blatant exclusion of dialogue from the end of the play, conveniently omitting the play's best asset, which was its willingness to portray the rapist as a human being. Not one you'd let babysit your kids, probably not even one who should be allowed to live among others, but a human being none the less.

Having read the play (I never saw it on stage), and liked it, my main reason for watching this film was to see James Russo in the kind of role he was born to play. In this I was not disappointed. Russo is an underrated actor whose uncanny ability to play hateful dirt-bags is usually wasted on supporting roles. Films in which he shines, such as "Dangerous Game" and "No Way Home," are few and far between.

I also was pleasantly surprised by Farah Fawcett, who turns in a flawless performance. Her cornered animal ferocity couldn't have been done better, nor could the inner conflict she expresses non-verbally at pivotal moments.

The direction is at times, like certain inspired camera shots (I'm a sucker for snake-skin boots), quite complimentary to the story and acting, while at others, like the ones where the camera keeps cutting to the terrified faces of the roommates to show us things we already know as if we are sub-literate morons, utterly ridiculous. The whole opening sequence that establishes the character and her dilemma is unnecessary and plays like, again, a made-for-TV movie. If I watch this again, I'm fast-forwarding about twenty minutes and starting there.

Once the real action begins, which is right in the thick of things, where the play begins, it's pretty much ceaseless in its intensity until the end. For me it even worked right up to the credits, it just really bugs me that you don't get to hear the guy sing, "Found a peanut, found a peanut," and that it's not made clear enough that Farah isn't dragging him back to that fireplace because she wants to, it's because he wants her to. Now that he's told the truth and is playing fair, she doesn't hate him anymore. Maybe they could even be friends, seeing as they've now both experienced a power trip that polite folks haven't, one which I imagine triggers equal amounts of both self-loathing and exhilaration. That's the "why" that another poster alluded to, and that's the kind of message that could never make it into a movie with a score that belongs on network TV.

Mastrosimone, who wrote both the play and the movie, damn well better have had a gun to his head, because the real rape victim here is his own play.


Good but depressing
The best thing about this film is the first half hour, the classic posturing in the first scene ("We ain't got no cold beer"), Doc and Kate Elder's damaged courtship, a stark, music-less ride across scorching desert. The first glimpse of Tombstone (the town, not the movie) is equally exhilarating, everything is dirty and chaotic, men are fighting in the streets. From that point on, much of the film is boring and slow, though there was enough to hold my attention throughout. Seeing how the story will unfold is the most riveting aspect. The ending is satisfying enough, as is the script's odd take on how and why Doc wound up in the fateful gunfight at the coral. The performances are good all around. It warrants mentioning here that this movie is no more historically accurate than other films on the subject. Two major inconsistencies were already mentioned, and most historians' and witnesses' accounts have Doc playing a much more active role in events leading up to the fight. The overall feel of the film, though, is much more believable than your average Hollywood western. That's probably the most satisfying thing here next to the cast: the physical details, the look and feel. Just pretend the characters are all made up. And don't watch it if you're already in a bad mood.

Per qualche dollaro in più

My favorite Leone western.
This film is mad, tongue in cheek fun that borders on "Blue Velvet" style depravity when it's not reveling in its exaggerations of the genre. The villain Indio, who has to smoke a cigarette lit by someone else after he kills someone because he's so aroused by death that he can't function properly is what first made me love the actor Gian Maria Volonte. Despicable and unclean, you bet! The obligatory showdown/bonding scene between Eastwood and Van Cleef is the best of its type ever filmed. This, of all the Leone westerns, is just the most out and out fun. It's mad, evil fun. The score is exceptional even for Morricone, the direction, editing, writing, acting...everyone's at the top of their game. It features Klaus Kinski's best performance in a western, even topping "The Great Silence," even though he only figures in two scenes. Lee Van Cleef's line: "Why should a man who carries a gun allow himself to be insulted?" perfectly conveys the warped logic of this brilliant joy-ride through the world of European comic books from hell with pictures that move.

El precio de un hombre: The Bounty Killer

Whiskey guzzlin' unshaven bullet mongers
This one starts out slow but gets good. It is reportedly Tomas Milian's first western. He turns in one of his best performances as an escaped convict who returns home, where the "bounty killer" of the title lies in wait for him. The townsfolk side with their old friend Milian, only to watch his behavior degenerate into that of the miscreant he's become. Soon his entire gang of freaky looking b**tards (the alternate title is "The Ugly Ones") has trickled into town and the villagers are at their mercy.

This film is the ideological opposite of "The Great Silence" in that everyone hates the bounty hunter, but in the end he turns out to be right. Just the same it's quite entertaining when it gets going and features the best "outlaws terrorizing the townsfolk" sequence of any western I've seen. Rivals the one in the first "Mad Max," which isn't even a western. One of the terrorizing outlaws is the drunk from "Cutthroats Nine." Actually, the cast all around is great, with more than one familiar face. The musical score works well once you get used to it, though it sounds a lot like a cross between a Morricone rip-off and something by that guy who did the "Brady Bunch" music. Eugenio Martin's direction, while it has some slow spots and flaws, shows true inspiration.

All in all, worth seeing for genre fans and a must for those of Tomas Milian.

Jonathan degli orsi

I was not disappointed.
The two Men behind the great "Keoma," Enzo G. Castellari and Franco Nero, have here returned to familiar territory with perhaps a broader and more accessible (read: "not quite as good") vision of much the same character. Or at least he has the same hat.

While "Jonathan Degli Orsi" doesn't have the uncompromising, feverish fantasy feel of its predecessor, it is perfectly convincing in its chosen setting, a forested wilderness about to be exploited by a would-be oil magnate (John Saxon) that is currently inhabited by an Indian tribe and their sacred burial ground. Enter Jonathan (Nero), an orphaned white man of Polish descent who has been raised by bears and the aforementioned tribe. After leaving his adoptive family to seek revenge for his parents' murder, a quest which has brought him face to face with the futility of his rage, he returns to his true people, the ones who raised him, only to find them under attack by the world he wants nothing to do with.

And what do you think he does?

This film could be seen as Castellari and Nero's answer to the previous year's "Unforgiven," as it both pays tribute to and meditates on themes of the Western genre; the meditation is coming from a similarly aged and wisened point of view. For my money, this particular meditation/tribute is more clever, more accomplished and has a much wider scope. It is beautifully filmed, excellently acted, and superbly written. It has a soundtrack that, while not having much to do with Spaghetti Westerns, enhances the story quite well. In one way it improves over "Keoma" in that it contains songs with lyrics that actually COMPLIMENT the film rather than taking away from it.

This film's winks and nods to the by-gone "Spaghetti" genre are all quite clever; some of them made me laugh out loud. Watch as Castellari actually provides a real-world explanation for the mysterious fog that always rolls in for the climactic shoot-out. There's also a great scene that I'm sure was meant to evoke "Django the Bastard" as well as plenty of references to the director's own "Keoma." What's really cool, though, is that this film doesn't try to BE a Spaghetti Western while doing this. It finds its own place in the scheme of things. It very much feels like a nineties kind of film, but a damn good one.

Castellari's Peckinpah-style action has come a long way and is a pleasure to watch. The actor who plays Jonathan as a child is quite good and has an uncanny charisma. I would definitely urge fans of "Keoma," Castellari and Nero to seek out this rather difficult-to-find film. Like I said, I was not disappointed.

I would also encourage fans of "Dances With Wolves" type dramas to check out this one and see how it ought to be done.

Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare

A depraved thrill-ride for the trash-tolerant
This was reportedly released in the U.S. in the 70's in a badly cut form and billed as a horror film.

It is clearly a CRIME film, one that focuses first on the malefactors (led by a crazed, sociopathic Tomas Milian) and only second on the pursuing detective (one mightily p****d-off Henry Silva). The version I saw, supposedly "uncut," certainly did not leave me bored. It's trashy, over the top and exploitative, expressing much the politics of a "Dirty Harry" rip-off with its emasculated cop driven to vigilante tactics and its sleazy anti-hero (Milian) who will literally stop at NOTHING, not even remorseless, cold-blooded murder, just to steal a few bucks out of a cigarette machine. But it didn't leave me bored.

Milian's riveting (as usual) performance--many complain that he exaggerates too much but I feel they're missing the point--suffers greatly due to the bad English dubbing. This is quite frustrating, since Milian speaks English and could have done it himself. The excellent Morricone score also suffers, since the music suddenly gets lowered or stops altogether every time a character speaks. But these are faults, I'm sure, of the English language version and not of the film itself.

The film itself, taken on its own terms, is entertaining as hell. Especially if you think Hell might be entertaining. Milian's character, a small-time hood named Sacchi who is determined to make it big by kidnapping a rich guy's daughter, is on a hell-bent mission. He doesn't care who he kills, tortures or rapes as long as he doesn't leave witnesses. When he's not killing, torturing and raping, he's committing brazen acts such as following the cops who are supposed to be following him and going to the police station to report his own crimes.

It's a bloody crime film that never lets up. It's set in a desperate, anarchic urban landscape where Grandma and Grandpa sell machine guns. Morricone's score adds a whole ominous dimension; the music in the opening credits just says, "Ugly things are about to happen." And they do. Just look for a version with subtitles, if you don't speak Italian.

Quentin Tarantino's mother was blowing his nose, damn straight.

I crudeli

Silly-ass cheapo wild west extravaganza!
This not-so-dazzling entry from "Great Silence" director Sergio Corbucci appears to have been conceived with the intention of providing fans with every spectacle the western mythos has to offer, even at the expense of logic. This is especially evident about two thirds of the way through the film, when the protagonists, becoming unhinged and desperate in the middle of the desert, are suddenly assaulted from all sides by about fifty cookie-cutter banditos. Joseph Cotton exclaims, "Mexican Outlaws!" and a gun battle ensues (up to this point, Mexican outlaws have had absolutely nothing to do with the plot). Thirty seconds after that, the cavalry, bugle and all, comes to the rescue! Earlier in the film we've had the obligatory western bar fight, and later on our "heroes" (they're a bunch of murderous Civil War vets who want to re-establish the confederacy) will be confronted by angry injuns. "Companeros" this ain't.

However, as a fan of Corbucci, who basically seems to subscribe to the Roger Corman school of just gettin' it done but who seems to manage to inject some of his own wierdness even into his worst films, I'm not sorry I saw it. I'll see it again. Certain moments make it all worthwhile. One of those moments is the whole finale sequence, which owes a lot to the bitter irony of film noir and also to the cheesiest episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." Another is the aforementioned barfight, which displays some typical Corbucci camera technique (handheld cameras, zooms) that is so unsettlingly out of place that it elevates the scene above its otherwise cliche status.

Like most Corbucci westerns, there is blood when guys get shot (not always the status quo for the genre) and a decent helping of various brutality. There's a booze-guzzling femme fatale, a wierd-ass theme song with a trumpet that sounds more like it belongs in some European art film, and an atmospheric grave-robbing scene.

However, there are plenty of slooooow moments and some REALLY bad dialogue that almost sink the whole thing. There's also a cheesy sub-plot involving a member of the Confederate gang who's questioning the evil ways of his father (Joseph Cotton as the gang's leader) and half-brothers falling in love with the woman they've coerced into helping them with their evil scheme. It could all work with better writing, grittier characters and better pacing; it doesn't have those things.

It's probably a two out of five star movie that's worth seeing for a few scenes and twisted ideas if you're willing to sit through the rest of it. Definitely worth renting if you're a Corbucci fan.

Cani arrabbiati

A perfect film.
This film succeeds a hundred per cent.

That being said, I will add that it's not for everyone. It has many unpleasant moments. It is basically an extremely gritty crime film that borders on real-life horror. In some ways it reminds me of "Last House on the Left," only better.

It's driven by characterization. It stands up to repeated viewing. The acting, dialogue and story are all excellent. Mario Bava's work here is certainly as good as ever, it's just that his exceptional talent in this case is used only for the good of the story. No blatant style or atmosphere, just what's needed. It proves, once and for all, that he was not only a great stylist but an all-around craftsman as well.

The music is also quite good.

Who knows how many inches is 32 centimeters? I'm in the US where we never use metric and school was a long time ago.

Thriller - en grym film

Mesmerizing if not perfect
After hearing all the hype about this film...the latest notorious Eurotrash cult film making the rounds...has to be seen to be and violence, sex and violence, etc., I finally got hold of a copy of it and was almost afraid that with all the anticipation I'd just be disappointed. To add to that, the copy I got was of crappy quality as I discovered when I started watching it--the opening credits were so blurry I couldn't read them--and the whole affair started to look like nothing more than the chore necessary to get the idea of finally seeing this film out of my head.

All this apprehension disappeared quickly as I got sucked into this simple yet very engaging story. We all know it's about a chick with one eye who picks up a shotgun and exacts revenge on her abusers, another entry into a sub-genre that needs no introduction, and that's what I expected, just another entry into this sub-genre with maybe enough explicit footage to give it the aforementioned notoriety, which alone does not a good film make. What I didn't expect was the atmosphere, the occasional insight (witness an early semi-rape scene involving rape-by-camera), the genuinely creepy close-ups of leering, panting men and all the other quirks that make this such a neat little flick. There is a lot of experimental sort of storytelling in this movie, as I guess was the style of the time (early seventies), and some of it is neat and some of it is downright annoying. But the overall effect, aided in no small part by the music, and aided also by the main character's inability to speak (had to have influenced Ms. .45, which came later) as well as the fact that I don't speak Swedish and this film is neither dubbed nor subtitled, is one of being underwater in a very polluted river. And that seems perfectly appropriate, since figuratively that's the story of the protagonist's life.

The close-up hardcore porn footage is used to better effect than I've ever seen such footage used, as it is supposed to be disturbing and sickening (anyone who thinks about impersonal images like that when they think about real sex, the good kind, has got to be a few beers short of a case). However, it is somewhat over-used. There are some good scenes of drawn-out, methodical drug-administering, shotgun-sawing, martial arts training, etc. that give the film, at times, an edge of realism. This realism is shattered, however, by scenes of cars exploding at the slightest impact and the nails-on-a-chalkboard slo-mo shooting scenes (not just slo-mo, sloooooooooo moooooooooo). Comparing this to Peckinpah is like comparing Green Day to the Stooges.

However, the entire film was redeemed for me by the last couple of scene of her walking, all clad in black with her eyepatch and shotgun, amidst some shacks by a pier was straight out of a very dark western. The whole look of the film, especially the outdoor footage, is stark and desolate. Makes me want to go to Sweden. I was not let down by the last killing...the guy deserved that and's a testament to the sort of infectuous quality of this film and the surprising abilities of porn star Christina Lindberg that I cared that much and even savored what happens to this guy. I've never actually savored the film re-enactment of the torture of a human being before seeing this film. More important than that, though, were the stark landscapes and windy, desolate atmosphere of the whole last sequence. "One-eye"'s cold-as-ice serenity as she sits and waits for her macabre plan to take effect is more satisfying than any of what she's waiting for.

All this stark imagery, simplicity and symbolism, I think, makes this film more of a subversive feminist allegory than any other of its type that I've seen; because it is at times almost mythic, it doesn't have to be taken literally. It doesn't have to be about pimps kidnapping girls and force-feeding them drugs, it doesnt have to be about shot guns. It does make me wonder how Christina Lindberg felt about the film, and what she did after.

One more thing: does a black-leather-clad, shotgun toting avenger driving around in a cop car through barren countryside remind you of anything?

Definitely check this out if you're not squeemish.

Vamos a matar, compañeros

Sometimes, in the presence of beautiful women... turn into jabbering idiots. That's exactly how I feel about this film. Maybe I haven't seen enough non-Leone Spaghetti Westerns, but I sure as hell am gonna have to start now, beginning with as much of this Corbucci guy's stuff as I can get my hands on. Actually, I've seen "Django" a few years ago, but that doesn't even begin to compare to the rush I got out of watching this film. From the blood-soaked execution wall they keep by the voting booth at the beginning (that's, you know, to avoid any of the unnecessary confusion like we had in Florida recently) to Franco Nero galloping to his death in slow motion shouting out this movie's original title, this whole freaking film...It doesn't even feel like a western at all. Yeah, Corbucci plays with the conventions, and technically I guess it is a western, and that's what makes it even more great. Not since "Dead Man" have I seen such brilliant genre-bending, and this was in 1970, damn it! Morricone's score, especially the simultaneously cheesy-as-hell and unshakeably haunting theme song as well as the slow, melancholy sort of riding music (actually, the whole score is pretty much just these two pieces alternating and once in a while two fuzztone guitar notes to let you know things are about to get hairy), is PERFECT. Thomas Milian is a GREAT actor who I didn't know from Adam until now. The end makes me want to either find a time machine and go join up with Pancho Villa or watch the whole thing over again. Like I said, maybe I'm just not familiar enough with this particular sub-sub-genre.

It does drag a little in the middle, but then Franco Nero starts picking up machine guns...

(NOTE: the version I saw has restored scenes excluded from the original English language version and they are subtitled, interspersed with the dubbing of the rest of it, and you should see this version if at all possible because they're some of the best scenes. "Your grandfather is a man with an extremely wide buttocks.")

Runaway Train

A good, tough movie
This works for me as a tough guy movie on the level of "The Dirty Dozen," "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," or "Dirty Harry." Like those films, it appeals to my base nature but also does so in a way that is notable for its quality. Since this film was made in the eighties, a long time ago for some but not for me, it is also worth mentioning that it was made at a time when there was a paucity of this kind of film. If you ask me, there still is.

For anyone who's more interested in the tenacity of Tuco the bandit in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" than they are in watching how many cars or buildings a studio will pay to blow up, this movie is for you. What I mean is, the toughness of the characters is more important here than the mayhem itself, though there are a couple of great scenes of trains crashing into things. Jon Voigt is effing amazing here as Manny, the ubermensch of the prison he escapes from, which brings me to Nietzsche, which brings me to philosophy, which there is some of in this movie. That doesn't mean that rich art snobs will discuss it over wine and cheese, but I don't understand why anyone cares if they should. I'm much more interested in John P. Ryan as the warden flushing the punk college boy's head in the toilet.

That being said, there is a mirror image relationship here between Voigt's character, who has accepted himself as an animal and become the best animal he can be, and Ryan as the prison warden, who is every bit as much an animal but pretends to be so for moral reasons. Voigt's character is honest. Ryan's is not--in fact he is more sadistic and mean spirited as a result of his suppressed sadism--and therein lies much of the philosophy. My kind of message. In fact, it goes even deeper through the implied redemption of Eric Roberts' character; he plays the young, not very smart convict who starts out idolizing Voigt. Through his characters' possible hope, and Voigt's final semi-noble act, we see that humans can be better than animals if they choose to.

The classic speech about getting a low-wage job and cleaning that "little spot" for your weaselly little manager is gold to anybody whose ever had to take a fast food job at a later age than most and get bossed around by twenty-year-olds.

Though I downplayed the action aspects earlier, it has plenty of that, too. And the arctic setting, and the giant-sounding music...the terrain, the characters, everything about this movie is tough. And it has no illusions about its characters' motivations. And it works on many levels. And Eddie Bunker, the great ex-con novelist, lent authenticity to the prison aspects through his work on the screenplay and small role in the beginning. And Eric Roberts has never been this good (I knew a guy with the exact mannerisms of his character, and ain't nuttin' wrong wit duh aksents), and John Voigt only was one other time (can you say, "Joe Buck?"). And Ryan, who I only really know from Millius' "Dillinger," in which he dies way too soon, is the perfect villain.

For guys who like movies a la the TNT network thing but also can't tolerate drivel. One of my absolute favorites of any genre.

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