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Blu-Ray

Blu-Ray Review: A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE aka DUCK, YOU SUCKER! (1971)

You would be forgiven for thinking Duck, You Sucker! is an unusual title for what turned out to be Sergio Leone’s penultimate picture, but the absurdity strangely works in the context of this most unusual spaghetti western.

It could be why the title was subsequently revised as the more playable A Fistful of Dynamite, which of course places it as an unofficial fourth companion to Leone’s most legendary work – A Fistful of Dollars, aka the Dollars trilogy. Duck, You Sucker! was a perceived popular American colloquialism Leone was convinced existed, and it speaks to the somewhat perverted lens through which Leone continues to explore the American experience in, what we will call for ease, simply Dynamite from now on. His tale of Rod Steiger’s sleazy Mexican bandit who finds comradeship in James Coburn’s fugitive Irish revolutionary at the heart of the Mexican Revolution of 1913 is messy, explosive and oddly romantic.

This could be why Dynamite has struggled to achieve the cultural or critical reach of Leone’s Dollars trilogy or his final film, Once Upon a Time in America. As much as his first picture, The Colossus of Rhodes, A Fistful of Dynamite is arguably Leone’s forgotten, at times semi-masterpiece.

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Tony Talks #18: New Eureka Blu-Ray Goodness!

Greetings everyone!

As you know, this year I’ve been doing quite a bit of reviewing for Eureka Entertainment, one of the best cult and classic movie labels out there in the UK who have been kind enough to send me screeners of their upcoming films. I’ve seen a bunch of movies I never would have independently watched via this method and it’s been terrific fun.

A stack of Eureka titles all came at once recently and many without the in-depth extras most of their other titles have, so I thought I would badge them up into one post as I clear the decks for this year.

I’m probably going to review less Blu-Ray content in 2020 from Eureka and elsewhere, to be honest, only cherry picking what really takes my fancy. I have Book 2 which I need very much to be getting on with as we enter the New Year and I want to devote time to a few other bits & pieces as well, such as more Scene by Scene film breakdowns & my upcoming 2000 in Film project.

So anyway, here we go. The last (but one) stack of Eureka titles to consider for 2019…

Blu-Ray Review: DER GOLEM (1920)

It is entirely possible that Der Golem aka The Golem, 1920’s German expressionist trend-setter from director Paul Wegener (and co-director Carl Boese), can actually be classed as the first cinematic franchise, given this particularly well-regarded effort stands as the third time Wegener portrays the titular Golem. It may also be the first cinematic prequel.

Don’t quote me on that. Far harder cinephiles may well be able to pull an obscure 1910’s example out of the hat to prove me wrong, and naturally Der Golem never directly clues you in to the fact this was set before the previous Golem films, but Wegener & Boese’s movie is at the end of the day an origin story. Set in the Jewish ghetto in 16th century Prague, it focuses on a small village where an enterprising Rabbi (played by Albert Streinruck) forges a Golem via black magic to protect the people from a tyrannical Emperor (Otto Gebuhr), only for the creature to ultimately turn destructive when he is used for personal gain. It is, in that sense, a cautionary tale of playing God, of man creating monster, and I know what you’re thinking: Frankenstein. The inspirations are clear but, in truth, they work both ways.

While Wegener & Boese undoubtedly would have been in some way influenced by the Gothic literature of Mary Shelley, the legend of the Golem stretches back into Hebrew myth and you can entirely see the inspirations in the work of James Whale and his own seminal, early 1931 Hollywood take on the Frankenstein story. These stories all have their place in romantic narrative and, in the case of Der Golem, a formative part of ‘Weimar Cinema’ in pre-Nazi Germany.

Blu-Ray Review: THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)

After Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but long before Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, John Huston sailed down river with The African Queen, his charming adaptation of C. S. ‘Horatio Hornblower’ Forester’s novel about a prim British missionary teaming up with the grizzled captain of the titular tramp steamer to combat vicious Germans deep in Africa in World War One.

Who do you cast in such roles? Why, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, of course! If you can put to one side the improbability of the southern drawling Hepburn, about as American as can be, playing the sister of the pompous and delightfully British colonial Robert Morley, The African Queen offers much to enjoy. Hepburn had already achieved screen greatness in the 30’s and this would serve as one of several comebacks across ensuing decades, but Bogie was arguably here at the height of a career buoyed by Casablanca and set to be tragically cut short by the end of the 1950’s. Huston nevertheless understands putting these two together is celluloid dynamite; a heady fusion of charismatic big screen prowess as Hollywood sailed into the last decade of its Golden Age of stars, studios and old-fashioned vehicles.

That being said, The African Queen has inspired so much over the last seventy years, it provides a template for the romantic comedy adventure that would be replicated down the decades, be it Robert Zemeckis with Romancing the Stone or even Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Hepburn and Bogart are the classic reluctant pairing thrown together, who fall in love amidst great adversity.

Blu-Ray Review: DIEGO MARADONA (2019)

When someone mentions the greatest footballer of all time, three names most likely come to mind. The oldest is Brazilian legend Pele. The newest would probably be Barcelona’s Argentine master Lionel Messi. In the middle, arguably, could be Argentina’s controversial and flamboyant striker Diego Maradona.

Just the name conjures up a whole wealth of iconic cultural images for anyone born before or around the early 1980’s; lifting the World Cup trophy in Mexico ’86, the same tournament as the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England. But how much do we stop and consider the man behind the images himself? Maradona spent years in the tabloids, particularly for a powerful drug addiction which all but destroyed his playing career after his glory days, but do we know the man behind the myth? Asif Kapadia attempts to explore this question in his documentary, much anticipated after his striking debut Senna and the searing, emotional heights of Amy. There is a reason he doesn’t call his film simply Maradona, as we all know him. This is as much, if not more, about Diego too.

This question provides the lynchpin of a film which never hits the potent, powerful and affecting heights of Kapadia’s tragic previous two examinations, but nevertheless shines a light on a fascinating man at a fascinating point of sporting history.

Blu-Ray Review: MOBY DICK (1956)

Even if you haven’t read Herman Melville’s 19th century novel, who doesn’t know the story of Moby Dick? Captain Ahab and his wooden leg obsessively hunting the titular white whale off the Cape of Good Hope. Moby Dick means all kinds of things to a great many people, in the case of this 1956 adaptation, film director John Huston.

Before this lavish Technicolor adaptation, Melville’s great American novel had only been committed to celluloid once, or sort of twice; John Barrymore starred in 1926 in The Sea Beast as Ahab, which was then remade with sound in 1930 as Moby Dick, as the silent film gave way to the pre-Code Hollywood age of talkies. Huston’s version was the first screen take on the source material to truly capture the scope and majesty of Melville’s tome, and no one since in over sixty years has really tried to better it, even if certain seafaring pictures have emulated it, or allegorically science-fiction—Star Trek in particular—has worked to capture the spirit of Moby Dick on a different canvas. Perhaps nobody has tried to match Huston’s version, co-written incidentally with legendary science-fiction author Ray Bradbury, even with more advanced effects and filming techniques, because it would be hard to do a better job.

By degrees theatrical, Shakespearian, moving and thrilling, Huston’s Moby Dick remains a gorgeous piece of late Hollywood Golden Age filmmaking to this day.

Blu-Ray Review: UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (1992)

Andrew Davis, director of The Fugitive most notably, was the original choice to helm Universal Soldier but was replaced by Roland Emmerich, in his first Hollywood picture alongside co-writer Dean Devlin, and you sense had Davis helmed what stands as a textbook example of the high concept 90’s action thriller, it might have ended up a very different film.

Emmerich, who has made some terrific pieces of popcorn entertainment over the years—among his best arguably Independence Day and Stargate—is not exactly the most subtle of auteurs and that is evidenced as early as Universal Soldier, after he and Devlin originally were slated by super-producer Mario Kassar to make a science-fiction film called Isobar (eventually shelved). Universal Soldier isn’t the most exuberant film Emmerich has made to date but it could well be the silliest, the most empty-headed, and is without doubt the most homoerotic, and given Emmerich is known as a modern day Irwin Allen making crowd-pleasing, world landmark trashing, CGI-fuelled epics, that is quite the statement. It was always going to be this way when you throw in, as your leads, the double sucker punch of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.

Truthfully, Universal Soldier is not a film that is ageing particularly well but with a beer in one hand and a pizza in the other, you would be hard pressed not to find some enjoyment in the hammy theatrics and ridiculous action set-pieces.

Blu-Ray Review: FULLER AT FOX – Five Films 1951-1957

By rights, Samuel Fuller should probably be regarded more highly in the annals of mid-20th century American cinema. The fact he made principally the kind of B-pictures evidenced in this comprehensive Eureka Entertainment release is testament to why this isn’t the case.

Fuller at Fox: Five Films 1951-1957 does what it says on the tin, presenting five key pictures from the key cornerstone era of Fuller’s career. While he would again make a critical splash (if not a box office one) in 1980 with his war movie The Big Red One, Fuller’s period working at 20th Century Fox across the 50’s is probably his heyday. Fox head honcho Darryl F. Zanuck tempted him with the promise “we make better movies” and gave Fuller the opportunity to play in different genres while retaining a similar, unique sense of pulp, all-American muscular grit, whether playing war, Western or even international crime thriller. Over these years, Fuller had a run at them all.

This collection presents these films in quite stunning, remastered fashion on BluRay and they arguably serve as a fantastic entry point for anyone looking to explore Fuller’s work. It’s the kind of release long-term fans will go nuts for.

Blu-Ray Review: RED HEAT (1988)

If someone asked you to name five, even perhaps ten Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, chances are none of them would be Red Heat. Even in the context of the 80’s, arguably his most successful period as a marquee action star, Walter Hill’s buddy cop action thriller hasn’t resonated down the ages as a signature Arnie movie. The question is why.

For a start, Red Heat deliberately eschews what by this point people had started to love the Austrian Oak for – his clumsy, cod-American charisma, most effectively delivered in films such as Commando in 1985 or Predator in 1987 (and they would see again later in 1988 with Twins). That isn’t to say that Arnie’s Soviet detective Ivan Danko doesn’t wisecrack—he often does, for deliberate ‘fish out of water’ effect’—but Danko lacks the hard man smarts of John Matrix or Dutch Schaefer. Arnie has to play him more like the T-800 in a Russian costume, with occasional deadpan comic lines. He ports some of this style actually into the T-800 when he plays a reversed, good-guy version of the character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day three years later.

This presents a problem, in that Arnie comes off a little stilted, a little restrained. By this point, as he has settled deeper into the acting persona he has started to develop, Schwarzenegger struggles to play both the straight man *and* comic foil in Red Heat, which is essentially is forced to do. In theory, James Belushi’s smart-mouthed Chicago cop, his reluctant partner Art Ridzik, should fill the comic role but he just comes off as Martin Riggs with the edges filed off, and Belushi—a gifted comic actor—just doesn’t have the material to be more than an annoyance for much of the picture. There’s a reason Art Ridzik never comes up when people talk about the 80’s finest buddy cop characters, you know? Red Heat falls down because the central partnership never really comes alive, and the premise is predicated to an extent on the match up.

The reason Red Heat is perfectly watchable, however, lies in some of the broader aspects to Hill’s picture.

Blu-Ray Review: THE DOGS OF WAR (1980)

Adaptations of Frederick Forsyth novels quite possibly peaked too soon with 1975’s The Day of the Jackal, arguably the thriller writer’s most renowned work, far more so than The Dogs of War.

In some ways it feels unfair to compare the two, given they tread different geopolitical waters, but you always know what you’re getting with a Forsyth story. A global travelogue, international espionage and intrigue, a shady hero (or anti-hero) and lots of old, powerful men plotting conspiracies behind closed doors. John Irvin’s adaptation of The Dogs of War is right in that wheelhouse and does exactly what it says on the Forsyth tin, often indeed in a rather formulaic and forgettable way. Even the initial Shakespearean allusions and a flicker of post-The Deer Hunter psychological trauma for Christopher Walken’s central mercenary James Shannon isn’t really sustained as The Dogs of War descends into the muck and mire of shadowy corruption.

Ultimately, The Dogs of War as a piece doesn’t quite warrant the pedigree of those who have assembled before it in front of and behind the camera.