Film Review: Keoma (1976)

Also known as: Django Rides Again, Django Returns (both US informal titles), Desperado (US cut version), Keoma: The Avenger (US dubbed version), Coolman Keoma (West Germany video title)
Release Date: November 25th, 1976 (Italy
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Mino Roli, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori, Enzo G. Castellari, Joshua Sinclair (dialogue – uncredited)
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Woody Strode

Uranos Cinematografica, Far International Films, 101 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (US cut version)

Review:

“I need to find out who I am. To give the simplest of my actions a reason. I know by being in this world has some significance, but I’m afraid that when I found out what it is, it will be too late. In the meantime, I’m a vagabond. I keep traveling. Even when the earth sleeps, I keep traveling… chasing shadows.” – Keoma

Who doesn’t want to watch a movie where Franco Nero and his chiseled visage and dreamy eyes take on the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth as a badass gunslinger? Okay, he isn’t Jesus of Nazareth, he is Keoma, but damn, he looks like some sort of spaghetti western Messiah here to save us from mundane and derivative spaghetti schlock. I mean, it’s like Jesus and the original Django had a baby and gave him tight pants, a cool hat and some big guns. Never has a man looked so manly, so pretty and exuded some sort of mystical sexual fire by simply standing within the frame of scratchy and grainy celluloid.

I’ll admit, I have never seen Keoma, even though I am a big fan of Nero and spaghetti westerns. Now that I have, it is pretty high up on my list of Nero gunslinger pictures. Man, he is so damn good in this and his gaze is chilling when he needs to communicate that he’s coming for your ass. Franco Nero just has a presence and never has that presence been as strong as it is here, even if he isn’t spraying down dozens of evil soldiers with a giant Gatling gun yanked out of a casket.

The film is directed by Enzo G. Castellari, a guy not necessarily known for quality but known for having a real sense of style and accomplishing a lot with very little. The man made magic with the 1978 film The Inglorious Bastards, a film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to “borrow” its title. He also did the extremely low budget but impressive 1990: Bronx Warriors, a sort of Italian ripoff of Walter Hill’s classic The Warriors.

Keoma is damn good for what it is. It isn’t just a throwaway spaghetti western in a sea of similar films. It is ballsy and gritty and showcases the great Franco Nero in his best kind of role. It is also one of the best films Enzo G. Castellari ever directed.

Ranking the Films of Sergio Leone

Sergio Leone is my second favorite director of all-time (following Stanley Kubrick). Like Kubrick , I don’t think that he was capable of a bad film. When watching a Leone film, at least for me, I am not just watching a movie, I am living an experience. Here, I have ranked the motion pictures he directed.

1. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (Dollars Trilogy, Part III)
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. Duck, You Sucker! (a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite)
4. For A Few Dollars More (Dollars Trilogy, Part II)
5. A Fistful of Dollars (Dollars Trilogy, Part I)
6. My Name Is Nobody
7. Once Upon A Time In America
8. A Genius, Two Partners & A Dupe
9. The Colussus of Rhodes
10. The Last Days of Pompeii

Film Review: Tonight For Sure! (1962)

Also known as: Meet Me Tonight for Sure
Release Date: October 25th, 1962 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, Jerry Shaffer
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Don Kenney, Karl Schanzer

Searchlight Productions, Premier Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“The Harem Club, home of the most beautiful girls in burlesque presents: The most beautiful girls in burlesque!” – Announcer

Every director has to start somewhere and for legendary auteur Francis Ford Coppola, this was his directorial debut. There is nothing to be ashamed of about this, however. It really just sort of fits in with the nudie cuties of the time – none of which are good movies.

Yes, this is an awful film but it is basically a softcore sex picture without any sex, really. It just follows two guys around doing dumb shit and then is constantly interrupted to show a girl shaking her juggies for no real reason other than people wanted to see bare boobies on the big screen after the motion picture industry wasn’t forced to adhere to outdated government mandated morality codes. Film was now free to be art and sexploitation pictures flourished.

To be honest, Coppola didn’t show any real signs of his talent with this movie. He hadn’t fully been exposed to the tutelage he’d get from B-movie King Roger Corman. Regardless, this still helped him develop the tools and skill set that would lead to his magnum opus The Godfather, just ten years later.

The cinematography on this film was handled by Jack Hill, a man that would go on to direct several pivotal exploitation films. His directorial work includes the Pam Grier movies Coffy and Foxy Brown, as well as a personal favorite of mine, Switchblade Sisters.

Compared to other nudie cuties, this one is pretty standard. Now while I don’t enjoy it as much as Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead, it still fits well within this bizarre and short lived genre. Also, it was a launching pad for one of the best directors of the last half century.

For this being what it is, even with such a low rating, I can’t run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. It works for its genre, which was a genre not known for its quality. Plus, presenting a cornucopia of fabulous titties gets you off the hook.

Film Review: The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Release Date: December 1st, 1903
Directed by: Edwin S. Porter
Written by: Edwin S. Porter, Scott Marble
Cast: Alfred C. Abadie, Broncho Billy Anderson, Justus D. Barnes, Walter Cameron

Warner Bros. (as Edison Manufacturing Company), Kleine Optical Company, 12 Minutes (at 18 frame/s)

Review:

Lately, I have been going back to the films that started it all. I want to look at where this great art form came from and to explore some of the earliest films that made an impact on pop culture. The Great Train Robbery was a massive success, for its time. Back then, a twelve minute film was like an epic.

What makes this film so important, is that it was a huge achievement in capturing action. It was also one of the first films to have an actual plot. It helped launch the action, adventure, heist and western film genres.

The film had a budget of $150, which it made back fairly quickly, as it opened at Huber’s Museum in New York City and was then exhibited at eleven theaters throughout the city before expanding out even further. Thomas Edison’s people, a true marketing machine of its day, touted the film as “…absolutely the superior of any moving picture ever made.” They weren’t wrong, by the way.

The Great Train Robbery was really one of the first blockbusters and was the most popular silent film of its time until the release of The Birth of a Nation, twelve years later.

This film inspired many directors and several auteurs have made homages to it within their own works. For instance, Martin Scorsese mimics the final shot of this film in his hugely successful Goodfellas, where the main character points his gun through the fourth wall, at the audience, and shoots. Additionally, the scene in Goodfellas where the mobster shoots at the feet of the waiter, making him dance, is a sort of recreation of the scene in The Great Train Robbery where trigger happy locals cause the Eastern stranger to dance, dodging gunshots towards his feet.

The Great Train Robbery is one of the most significant films ever made and without its existence, who’s to say how the film industry would’ve evolved. This, alongside A Trip to the Moon, really allowed motion pictures to take shape and have a deeper meaning.

Film Review: Stagecoach (1939)

Release Date: February 2nd, 1939
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Dudley Nichols
Based on: The Stage to Lordsburg by Ernest Haycox
Music by: Louis Gruenberg, Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken
Cast: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Andy Devine, George Bancroft

Walter Wanger Productions, United Artists, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.” – Henry, the Ringo Kid

Stagecoach is a massively beloved western classic that went on to win Academy Awards and catapulted the career of John Wayne and his long partnership with director John Ford. While it isn’t my favorite western or Wayne film, it deserves its status, as it truly birthed what we know as westerns today.

When John Ford started making this picture, his colleagues warned him against it and said that making a western would be career suicide. If Ford hadn’t followed his gut and caved to the naysayers, the western genre, John Wayne and pop culture might not exist in quite the same way. This picture opened the floodgates for the genre and without it, kids might have never played cowboys and Indians and probably would’ve just stuck to cops and robbers or turned to something totally lame.

For modern audiences, this is a film full of genre cliches and it might be hard to see why it was such a great picture for its time. Everything you know about westerns, really started with Stagecoach. Every major trope you can think of is in this picture and compared to the films that came after it, there isn’t a whole lot that makes this feel original. But honestly, that is just a testament to how impactful this picture was. It set the stage for everything else to come.

It’s not super exciting and all the characters seem like cliches themselves but their differences serve the narrative well and the tension and conflict does effectively drive the plot. The action is just okay but there wasn’t a lot of great action in this era. Stuntmen existed, as John Wayne was one of them, but it obviously isn’t anything as over the top or exciting as what would come later in motion pictures.

John Wayne really carries the film with some help from leading lady Claire Trevor and the horror icon John Carradine. While Wayne does shine, he is not the lead and there isn’t as much meat in this role as he would later get to chew on.

Stagecoach is still a better than decent picture when compared to the genre, which flourished because of it. While I would recommend a slew of other westerns, the significance of this film cannot be denied.

Film Review: Unofficial ‘Django’ Sequels, Part II (1966, 1969, 1971)

It has been too long since I did the first installment of this series of reviews for the unofficial Django sequels. So I figured that it was about time that I pick it up and do the second installment. I actually own enough Django films to do at least five of these.

Introduction:

The original Django was an enormous success in 1966. It opened a lot of doors for its star Franco Nero and its director Sergio Corbucci. The film also inspired unofficial sequels to be created by a multitude of studios because copyrights in Europe back then weren’t as strict as they are in the United States.

There are forty-six Django films listed on his character page on Wikipedia. Most of those are lost to time. A dozen and a half or so, are still out there on streaming services, DVD or VHS – if you can track them down. Some are free on YouTube. Anyway, I’m trying to see as many of them as I can.

Some actually feature the character of Django and some just use his name in the title due to its popularity, even though the character isn’t in the film.

As I watch these films, I will review a few at a time. They won’t necessarily be in chronological order, as that doesn’t matter anyway, as none of these films are really connected to each other apart from a word in their titles.

A Man Called Django! (1971):

Also known as: W Django!, Viva! Django
Release Date: September 29th, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Edoardo Mulargia
Written by: Nino Stresa
Music by: Piero Umiliani
Cast: Anthony Steffen

14 Luglio Cinematografica, 90 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen has played a version of “Django” more times than the original Django, Franco Nero. Steffen’s movies are usually pretty good for knockoff spaghetti fare and he may be the most recognizable actor associated with the Django name, other than Nero… and now, Jamie Foxx.

A Man Called Django! a.k.a. W Django! a.k.a. Viva! Django is a better than decent spaghetti western on its own. It is one of a few examples of a Django picture that didn’t need to be connected to Django because it would have actually been better as its own standalone film. And in retrospect, it kind of upsets me for Anthony Steffen, who could have easily broke out as his own star and didn’t need to be the king of unofficial “Django”s.

This spaghetti extravaganza follows Django, as he sets out to exact revenge on the man who murdered his wife. He has help from a horse thief named Jeff and what we end up witnessing is a movie with more layers to it than what is first suspected. It starts out like a straight up revenge flick but evolves nicely due to some twists and turns.

The action is pretty good, the acting is solid from Steffen and fairly average from the others. The music really stands out but a lot of these Django films have pretty stellar scores that mimic the original’s style.

If you are going to delve deep into Django ripoffs and clones, as I have, I’d have to say that this is one of the few high points. Although, the editing is a bit sloppy in parts and in one scene Django literally punches a guy from a nighttime shot to a daytime shot.

Django the Runner (1966):

Also known as: Le colt cantarono la morte e fu… tempo di massacro, lit. The Colt sang death and it was… Massacre Time (Italy), The Brute and the Beast (US), Colt Concert (UK), Massacre Time
Release Date: August 10th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Fernando Di Leo
Music by: Lallo Gori
Cast: Franco Nero, George Hilton, Nino Castelnuovo

Mega Film Colt, I.F. Produzioni Cinematografiche, Panta Cinematografica, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

Lucio Fulci, most famous for directing several classic Italian horror films – most notably Zombi 2, also directed a handful of spaghetti westerns.

In Massacre Time, he directs Franco Nero, who was just coming off of his biggest hit Django. This movie was actually repackaged as a Django film in some international markets, making it one of several dozen unofficial Django pictures. Although, this has nothing to do with the character of Django. Nero plays someone else entirely.

Massacre Time sees Franco Nero return home to find everyone that he knows and loves to be under the rule of evil land barons. He quickly develops a rivalry with the son of the evil patriarch. This leads to a brutal bullwhip fight and other confrontations between the two. The bullwhip fight is the highlight of the film for me, as it was actually quite intense and nasty.

Nero teams up with his brother in a war against the land barons. There is a lot of action and typical spaghetti western violence. The style of the film isn’t all that refined but it certainly feels like the tone of a Fulci picture.

It isn’t a great movie but it gets a lot of praise from spaghetti western aficionados. I found it to be pretty dull for the most part, except for the bullwhip battle. The final battle is a bit clunky and has no real suspense. The film just sort of ends with a resolution that felt half-assed on execution. But it was also an early film in Lucio Fulci’s catalog and probably a big learning experience for him.

 

Hanging For Django (1969):

Also known as: Una lunga fila di croci (Italy), A Noose For Django, No Room to Die
Release Date: April 18th, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Garrone
Written by: Sergio Garrone
Music by: Vasco Vassilli
Cast: Anthony Steffen, William Berger

Junior Film, 97 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen is back!… Again! Apparently he wasn’t sick of playing various incarnations of Django. In fact, maybe his movies are actually sci-fi pictures, as we are peeking in on different Djangos from different dimensions and timelines. Actually, he isn’t even named Django in this one, he is referred to as “Johnny Brandon”.

This movie teams up Steffen with another spaghetti western great, William Berger. Both men form an alliance, as bounty hunters, to stop a rich guy that is smuggling in immigrants and doing other criminal things. It sort of starts like the relationship between Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in For A Few Dollars More but then there are double crosses and lots of fun twists to the plot.

For another film ripping off the Django name, this one could have survived on its own merits. It was a good spaghetti picture and the chemistry between Steffen and Berger was pretty awesome. Steffen is such a good hero and Berger always does a magnificent job with these sinister weasel roles. Just look at how he almost steals the show away from Lee Van Cleef in the original Sabata.

Hanging For Django is actually my favorite of the three pictures from this set. Strangely, the one actually starring Nero (the original Django) was the one I liked least. However, all three are pretty close to the same level. This one just gets a slight edge because I really liked the Steffen-Berger match up. This one was also better shot and edited than the two other pictures here.

There’s also a seven barrel shotgun in this movie… seven!

Film Review: The Dark Tower (2017)

Release Date: July 31st, 2017 (Museum of Modern Art premiere)
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel
Based on: The Dark Tower by Stephen King
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley

MRC, Imagine Entertainment, Weed Road, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t stop what’s coming. Death always wins.” – Man In Black

Idris Elba is a bad ass. Matthew McConaughey is a bad ass. Both men are also super smooth, great actors and the apple of many people’s eye. Then you have Abbey Lee, a woman I just can’t help but be mesmerized by, even if she is just emotionless window dressing in a scene. Throw in the always perfectly sinister Jackie Earle Haley and you’ve got my attention.

Unfortunately, only one word can really describe this film and that is “mundane”.

The Dark Tower was a gigantic missed opportunity. Here, you have a massive and lush universe created by Stephen King over the course of nine books. While I am not a big fan of King, I’ve heard for years that these books are some of his best work and they have become the stories that seem to be the most beloved. From what I understand, this movie was not based specifically on any one of the books but was instead a sort of sequel to them.

The film initially started out with promise but as the picture rolled on, it got worse and worse. In fact, there were some absolutely horrible creative decisions made on several levels of this film, especially if it was going the PG-13 route in an effort to capture the widest audience possible.

I don’t really know anything about the director but the execution was terrible. The acting was mostly good but suffered from the direction and often times, McConaughey’s lines came out pretty wooden. At this point, in his storied career, McConaughey is never really an issue in a movie. I have to put the blame on the director, who apparently wanted McConaughey’s Man In Black to be so cold that he was absolutely emotionless in his line delivery.

The movie introduced a lot of ideas and concepts to filmgoing audiences that might not be familiar with the books but it barely scratches the surface with any of it. There is all this cool shit happening but you never really understand or grasp any of it. The mythos needed to be better established and explained.

The whole film is setup in order to lead to the big final confrontation between the Gunslinger and the Man In Black, something I am assuming literary fans have been waiting for. What we get in the big finale is friggin’ dog shit. Just imagine a wizard versus a gun happy cowboy. The cowboy goes ape shit, blasting off dozens upon dozens of rounds and trick shots until the wizard finally gets duped and shot through the heart. Up until that point, the wizard is using rubble and glass to block shots and even catching bullets in the chaos. It just comes off as hokey and stupid and McConaughey looked baffled by the whole thing as he was doing it. Although, Idris Elba looked like a mastodon of a man as he blasted off hundreds of shots while looking stoic and cool.

I think, based off of the ending, that the film anticipates sequels. I’ll be shocked if that happens because this was a silly and disappointing train wreck.