Film Review: The White, The Yellow, and The Black (1975)

Also known as: Il bianco il giallo il nero (original Italian title), Samurai (Canada), Ring Around the Horse’s Tail (US dubbed version), Shoot First… Ask Questions Later (US alternative title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Amendola & Corbucci, Santiago Moncada, Renee Asseo, Antonio Troisio, Marcello Coscia, Sergio Spina
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Giuliano Gemma, Tomas Milian, Eli Wallach

Filmel, Mundial Film, Tritone Cinematografica, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[about to be hanged by a gang] I’ll never die without my boots on, and a star on my chest.” – Sheriff Edward Gideon

I’ve seen and reviewed about a half dozen Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns in recent years. I didn’t know about this one, however, until I stumbled across it while looking for something else. But I’m glad I did, even if it’s one of Corbucci’s weaker westerns.

Still, it’s a well cast film with three cool characters that had nice chemistry and provided solid performances that required dramatic and comedic acting with a little pinch of badassness sprinkled in.

People today would probably find the fact that Italian actor Tomas Milian plays a samurai in the Old West to be “problematic” and while the character is written mostly for laughs by tapping into cultural stereotypes, Milian still gives his character a certain panache and coolness when push comes to shove.

Spaghetti western legends Eli Wallach and Giuliano Gemma also add some fun to the proceedings, with Wallach playing a Sheriff and Gemma playing a typical western cowboy.

The plot sees this unlikely trio come together to track down a stolen Japanese horse that was intended to be a gift for the US government. The three men end up embroiled in a rivalry with a band of desperadoes that are made up of former Confederate soldiers.

Side note: this film was actually made as a loose parody of the Charles Bronson starring Red Sun. Milian’s samurai character would also reappear in the film Crime at the Chinese Restaurant in 1981, directed by Sergio’s younger brother, Bruno Corbucci.

Out of the Corbucci westerns I’ve seen, this one is, unfortunately, the weakest. But I can’t fault the director for trying to do something different for his last picture in the genre. While the characters are amusing and work fairly well together, the movie does kind of miss its mark and pales in comparison to Django, The Great Silence, Compañeros and The Mercenary. I’d also rank it behind Navajo Joe, which wasn’t anywhere near as goofy and borderline slapstick-y despite having more humorous bits than Corbucci’s other spaghetti westerns.

This also lacks the gravitas of those earlier films. Not that that’s a bad thing, per se, but Corbucci sort of had a particular style with his westerns and this plays more like a generic western comedy than the great action flicks one could expect from Corbucci.

Overall, I like the casting and I enjoyed their characters but apart from that, this is almost forgettable and probably only stayed afloat in a sea of spaghetti flicks due to who made it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns.

Film Review: Falling Down (1993)

Release Date: February 26th, 1993
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Ebbe Roe Smith
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest, Tuesday Weld, Lois Smith, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond J. Barry, Steve Park, D. W. Moffett, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Alcor Films, Canal+, Regency Enterprises, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Is that what this is about? You’re angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? Hey, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn’t give you any special right to do what you did today. The only thing that makes you special is that little girl.” – Sergeant Prendergast

Being that Joel Schumacher just passed away, I wanted to watch one of his films that I really like that I hadn’t seen in a really long time. I saw a lot of people online talking about Falling Down and it immediately moved to the top of my list in my head of Schumacher films, I have yet to review.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Schumacher’s work. There’s a few films I’m not too keen on but the ones I like, I really like. This being one of them.

Also, with everything insane that’s going on in the world in 2020, this actually seems kind of topical, 27 years later.

The story, for those who don’t know, is about a man who just simply loses his shit in a world that always seems to be working against him. As his day rolls on, shit keeps escalating to a point where he ends up feeling like he has to have a legit Old West style showdown with a cop on a pier.

What’s great about this movie is that the main character keeps crossing the line but their is a weird nobility in his actions and when he comes across people who are worse than him, he doesn’t really hesitate on taking them down. He takes out a shitty gang, kills a Nazi piece of shit but ultimately causes damage to his loved ones and some people who just happened to get caught in the crossfire of his meltdown.

This is a smart, layered picture with a lot of angles to it. It’s superbly acted by Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall, who plays the cop trying to stop the main character. It’s also the cop’s last day as a Los Angeles detective.

While the story shows the main character do bad things, it does a great job of justifying these things in his mind and to the audience, as everyone can relate to the sort of bullshit and pressure he has to deal with in this movie. However, the film also checks the main character’s ass and challenges him to see through his rage and to actually look for the silver lining.

Movies don’t really do this anymore, as in current times, they seem to just focus on the one side of the story they want to tell, as opposed to trying to get the audience to relate to multiple sides. This is smartly written and masterfully directed.

Now it’s not perfect but it doesn’t need to be. It’s just about a guy pushed to the point of a mental breakdown, who has some deep seeded issues in his past, that we only get hints of. In the end, he gives up and pushes the forces challenging him to take him out. But even in that last act, he shows that he’s not simply a bad, madman.

Falling Down is a tragedy. It’s a story about a beaten down human spirit that tried to play ball by the rules but always felt like the world was coming down on him. At some point or another, I think we’ve all felt that way.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other drama and crime films by Joel Scumacher, as well as dramas starring Michael Douglas.

Vids I Dig 372: Defunctland: The History of Disney’s Best Coaster, Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon

From Defunctland’s YouTube description: The conclusion of Defunctland’s two episode dissection of the Euro Disney resort. This time, Kevin discusses the history of Discovery Mountain, aka Space Mountain: De La Terre a La Lune, aka Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon, and eventually known as Space Mountain: Mission 2.

Film Review: Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994)

Also known as: Highlander III: The Sorcerer (original title), Highlander: The Magician (Sweden VHS title)
Release Date: November 30th, 1994 (Philippines)
Directed by: Andrew Morahan
Written by: Paul Ohl, Rene Manzor, Brad Mirman, William N. Panzer
Based on: characters by Gregory Widen
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Unger, Mako, Clancy Brown (archive footage)

Fallingcloud, Initial Groupe, Karambole Films Productions, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll see you in hell!” – Kane, “I’ll be the judge of that.” – Connor MacLeod

While the Highlander series should have stopped at one film, this third entry is at least much better than the second. Granted, it’s still fairly shitty.

Christopher Lambert returns as Connor MacLeod and once again, he has to fight another Immortal because sequels gonna sequel. It doesn’t matter that he killed the last Immortal (other than himself) in the first film. Actually, he does that in the second one too.

However, at least this doesn’t try to make sense out of the terrible, second film and this really just ignores that it ever happened. But that’s another problem with this series, as each new chapter just sort of did what it wanted. It’s kind of like the Terminator franchise without a big budget or bankable star.

The only good thing about this movie is that I liked the villain. While Mario Van Peebles’ Kane has the most generic name ever and he isn’t nearly as badass as Clancy Brown’s The Kurgan, I liked the sorcerer twist to the character and he looked fucking cool.

Plus, Van Peebles really seemed to be enjoying the role, as he got to be a total bastard that looked like he was truly relishing in his bastardness. Sure, he was hammy but he was good hammy while the rest of the film was shit hammy.

Other than that, this movie is a fucking mess and it’s really damn hard to sit through in one go. I had to pause it about three times to walk around the house and stare into the abyss of my empty fridge, as there was nothing to curb my boredom hunger.

That being said, this is still a more enjoyable and palatable picture than its direct predecessor. But that movie was so bad it was used to torture information out of terrorists.

God, I really don’t want to have to watch the fourth and fifth films in this franchise.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Highlander sequels, none of which come close to the cool and original first film.

Film Review: Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

Also known as: Highlander 2 (unofficial title)
Release Date: January 31st, 1991 (Germany)
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Peter Bellwood, Brian Clemens, William N. Panzer
Based on: characters by Gregory Widen
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside, John C. McGinley, Allan Rich

Davis-Panzer Productions, Harat Investments, Lamb Bear Entertainment, 91 Minutes, 86 Minutes (DVD), 100 Minutes (both theatrical versions), 109 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Most people have a full measure of life… and most people just watch it slowly drip away. But if you can summon it all up… at one time… in one place… you can accomplish something… glorious.” – Ramirez

How do you follow up a pretty awesome and unique film that didn’t need a sequel?

Well, you completely fuck everything up and produce a cheap, trashy, nonsensical, unnecessary clusterfuck and release it on the world!

Highlander II: The Quickening is a complete bastard of a motion picture and one of the worst sequels in history. But I’ll explain, as there is actually a lot to pick apart with this piece of rabid, foaming horseshit.

The biggest problem with this, more than anything, is the plot. Instead of the Immortals just being an unknown cosmic mystery that just exist, this film turns them into space aliens from a far off planet. The ones on Earth were basically exiled away for whatever reason and they must fight until “there can be only one”. That “one” then wins “The Prize”, which is now, essentially, a trip back to their home planet. I mean, what in the absolute fuck?

And that doesn’t even get into how secondary that whole plot point is, as the film spends more time focused on trying to take down an energy shield that was created by MacCleod to replace the o-zone layer, which was destroyed by pollution. Never mind that the Earth looks even more polluted and somehow this energy shield wrecked the world’s economy because it’s convenient for the plot, which needed this film to be set in a cyberpunk dystopian future.

I think I’m retelling this right but this picture had an effect on my brain where it made me feel completely smashed without actually sipping a drop of alcohol. I’m still immensely hungover from this cinematic swill.

It honestly feels like the filmmakers were given a script about o-zone layers and energy shields that wasn’t even related to the Highlander mythos and they decided to rework it just to throw the Highlander name on it and to bank on getting Sean Connery in this flaming turd.

The second worse thing about this picture is the acting. Almost every character in this, especially the baddies, acts absolutely and utterly insane. And not in a good way that the film calls for. It’s like they rounded up all the villain actors and locked them into a prison cell made out of cocaine, which they then had to snort their way out of. Well, except John C. McGinley, he’s actually really dull by comparison when looking at Michael Ironside and those flying, primal weirdos that look like they’re from an ’80s Norwegian industrial band.

On the flip side of that, Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery are also really dull. Lambert plays this like he’s a charisma vacuum while Connery makes sure that the audience understands that he doesn’t endorse this film and just needed to buy his wife a new house.

I guess Virginia Madsen is the most likable person in the movie but she’s completely drowned out by all the fuckery going on around her.

The third worse thing is the special effects and the general aesthetic of the movie. They’re deplorable by 1991 standards and this looks a lot cheaper than the first film. I mean, they’re embarrassingly bad. Almost every sequence in this film looks like a cutscene from an early ’90s cyberpunk PC game. You know, back when they would hire really inexperienced actors to act out live action scenes with terrible effects and dystopian sci-fi sets all around them.

I could go on and keep picking out more negatives but this motion picture doesn’t deserve to have a novel written about it.

I’d talk about the positives but honestly, there aren’t any. And that’s not me being a dick, there really isn’t anything I can pull out of the bottom of this Port-O-Let and say, “Well, this little nugget here isn’t total shit.”

In the end, it was really hard to sit through this and I honestly don’t know if I can get myself to sit through the three sequels after this one. From memory, this was the worst in the series but I don’t have very fond feelings for the others, either.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: the other Highlander sequels, none of which come close to the cool and original first film.

Film Review: Freeway (1996)

Release Date: January, 1996 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matthew Bright
Written by: Matthew Bright
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Brooke Shields, Michael T. Weiss, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy, Conchata Ferrell

The Kushner-Locke Company, August Entertainment, Davis-Films, 104 Minutes (uncut), 102 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“Holy shit! Look who got beaten with the ugly stick! Is that you, Bob? I can’t believe such a teeny weeny little gun made such a big mess out of someone! You are so ugly, Bob! And, hey, I heard you have one of those big poop bags that’s like attached to where the shit comes out the side, you’re just a big old shitbag ain’t you, Bob! You just think of me every time you empty that motherfucking thing, motherfucker!” – Vanessa Lutz

Freeway is a batshit crazy movie. I’m not a massive fan of it as many others are and honestly, I wasn’t even sure what to think about it when it came out back in 1996. I was in high school at the time but I found it hard to grasp, as it feels more like a sequence of ideas wedged into a singular film. It also has a disjointed tone and a weird narrative structure.

I never hated the film but it wasn’t my cup of tea when it came out. I’m able to enjoy it more now but that’s also because an extra two and a half decades of life experience and film watching has made me more open to experimental and nontraditional filmmaking.

I mostly liked the film now, seeing it for the first time since it hit VHS. I never had much urge to revisit it but I figured I’d check it out because it’s been so long and my tastes have changed. Plus, I like Reese Witherspoon when she’s not in romantic comedies and I’ve always dug Kiefer Sutherland.

Additionally, this boasts a strong cast that wouldn’t have meant as much to me as a teenager. We’ve got Dan Hedaya, Brooke Shields, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy and Conchata Ferrell.

The story is a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s vastly different, though, as Witherspoon plays a trashy teen brought up by a speed addicted prostitute and pedophile stepfather. She’s essentially Little Red Riding Hood while Kiefer Sutherland plays the Big Bad Wolf, trying to hunt her down on the way to grandma’s house. The Wolf in this case is a famous (and still at large) Interstate serial killer.

Along the way, Sutherland’s Bob picks up Witherspoon’s Vanessa, after the car she stole broke down. They spend some time together but things get weird as the trip rolls on. Eventually, Vanessa discovers that Bob is the I-5 Killer. She is able to escape and puts several bullets into him. Vanessa ends up getting arrested and Bob survives, although he is severely disfigured.

In the second half of the movie, Vanessa is locked up in juvenile jail while the media makes Bob out to be a victim and heroic survivor. Vanessa eventually escapes juvie and makes her way to her grandma’s house where Bob is waiting for her, disguised as her grandma in bed ala the Big Bad Wolf.

While the film is tapping into the famous Brothers Grimm story, it definitely takes tremendous liberties and only seems to channel Little Red Riding Hood where it is convenient. In a lot of ways, the films plot is all over the place. It’s not hard to follow but it doesn’t follow any sort of structure. Frankly, there really isn’t a three act structure, either. You can break it out into four parts. I’m also not saying that this is a bad thing as it makes for a film that isn’t formulaic or predictable and in some regard, that’s refreshing. I’m actually glad that I forgot most of the plot details over the years since first seeing this.

Furthermore, Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland are both tremendous in this. Witherspoon, in only her fifth film, shows that she’s got real chops. Sutherland also brings his A-game and he’s so nuts in this that he really makes the movie better than it should have been on paper. He does crazy well and this may be the most bonkers role he’s ever played.

I’ve also got to point out the musical score by Danny Elfman. I dug the hell out of it and it’s one of the most unique Elfman scores of all-time. While it has the Elfman aesthetic, it’s different and unusual enough that had I not seen his name in the credits, I might not have realized it was him.

Freeway is nowhere near a perfect film but it’s a damn interesting one that’s carried by two solid performances and a story that takes you on an unexpected and wild journey.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as two other ’90s Reese Witherspoon movies: S.F.W. and Fear.

Vids I Dig 223: For the Love of Comics: ‘Tintin’: An Overview of 22 Albums (In 2 Parts)

From For the Love of Comics’ YouTube description (Part 1): A meander through 22 albums of the Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. This is an overview of an almost complete collection of Tintin books with glancing commentary.

From For the Love of Comics’ YouTube description (Part 2): It was supposed to be a quick glimpse but became a meandering chat, touching upon personal likes, different editions, and a bit of (probably inaccurate!) history.

Starring ancient paperbacks from Methuen and Magnet, as well as hardcover editions from Egmont and hardcover facsimile editions from Casterman.

Film Review: Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966)

Also known as: New York Calling Superdragon (informal English title)
Release Date: February 17th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Giorgio Ferroni (as Calvin Jackson Padget)
Written by: Giorgio Ferroni (as Calvin Jackson Padget), Remigio Del Grosso, Bill Coleman, Mike Mitchell
Music by: Benedetto Ghiglia
Cast: Ray Danton, Marisa Mell

Films Borderie, Fono Roma, Gloria-Film GmbH, 95 Minutes

Review:

Secret Agent Super Dragon is just one of several attempts of the Italians trying to capitalize off of the James Bond phenomena. It’s a film that fails in just about every way but luckily for us, it was so bad that it was showcased on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is one of those films that is unintentionally funny. It’s not officially a comedy but some of the stuff in it is so ridiculous that it plays like parody in parts.

The story is flimsy but that could also be due to a bad English language dub. But films like this get a lot lost in translation so it’s hard to say if there are actual details left out and if the really atrocious dialogue is just a really atrocious translation.

Still, the movie looks bad. It’s poorly shot, badly lit and shows no signs of competent cinematography. While one could claim it’s at least stylish, I could claim that it’s just due to the time and the country it was made in and that whatever style there is, is just a byproduct of it trying to mimic a James Bond picture.

Apart from its lack of technical and artistic merits, the film is just a dreadful bore to get through. It’s only really worth checking out on MST3K.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible ’60s wannabe Bond movies of which there are many.

Film Review: Mr. Arkadin – The Comprehensive Version (1955)

Also known as: Confidential Report (UK)
Release Date: June 27th, 1955 (Barcelona premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: original radio scripts by Ernest Bornemann, Orson Welles from The Lives of Harry Lime
Music by: Paul Misraki
Cast: Orson Welles, Robert Arden, Paola Mori, Akim Tamiroff, Michael Redgrave

Filmrosa/Cervantes Films/Sevilla, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes (Spanish version), 95 Minutes (public domain version), 98 Minutes (TCM print), 99 Minutes (Corinth version), 106 Minutes (The Comprehensive Version – The Criterion Edit)

Review:

“You are simply a fool. I will not ask you your price, because you have nothing to sell. But, still, I’ll make you an offer. I am going to give you something to sell. And, then, I will pay you for it. Come on. You have tried to threaten me with a secret that does not exist. Now, I will make you a present of a real one. The great secret of my life.” – Gregory Arkadin

Mr. Arkadin is an Orson Welles movie that has eluded me until now. While I’ve known of its existence since I was studying Welles in my high school film studies class, I knew that it was a film that had a half dozen different edits, lots of missing pieces and it wasn’t really a complete body of work.

It’s not quite a lost film, as a 95 minute version of the film has existed in the public domain for quite some time, but much of it was lost and even with the more recent Comprehensive Version, we still don’t have an edit of the film that is Orson Welles’ complete and realized vision.

The genesis of this film is pretty interesting though, as the story was adapted from a few episodes of the radio series The Lives of Harry Lime. Fans of Welles probably already know that he played the character of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s film-noir masterpiece, The Third Man.

Additionally, Welles once referred to this film as the “biggest disaster” of his life. This was because he lost creative control after missing an editing deadline, which then led to the film’s producer taking over and eventually releasing several different edits of the picture. The multiple edits created a lot of confusion and none of the released versions of the film were done so with the approval of Welles.

The Comprehensive Version, which is the edition that I watched and am reviewing here was made by taking pieces from the multiple versions of the film and trying to re-edit them into a form that makes the most narrative sense. However, the film still doesn’t feel whole and it isn’t.

That being said, it’s kind of difficult to review a film that isn’t complete and ultimately, wasn’t a fully realized concept brought to life by the artist that created it.

But you can still see how good it was by seeing some of these segments come to life. Welles employed great cinematography and one can’t deny that the film looks good and consistent with the level of visual storytelling that his movies were known for.

It’s also finely acted, even if some moments might not feel as coherent as they should. That’s not the fault of the actors, that’s the fault of the producer and editor. Well, at least they should take the blame based off of their involvement in making a chopped up and messy version of what this was intended to be.

It’s sad that this film didn’t get to be seen in its best form. The most recent form that exists is seemingly the best and it is still watchable but it just makes me wonder how different Welles’ version would have been. Additionally, for those that don’t know the full story behind this film, how would they see it? As a bad movie, a confusing one or even as an example of Welles not being on his A-game?

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Orson Welles’ other noir-esque pictures.