Tag Archives: Italian

Review of Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

25 Oct

C’era una volta il West also known as Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is an Italian western/adventure film, about a mysterious harmonica player protecting a widow of a farmer.

Directed by Sergio Leone (The Colossus of Rome (1961), Once Upon a Time in America (1984)).

Written by Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars (1964), A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)), Sergio Donati (The Sicilian Girl (2008), The Big Gundown (1966)), Dario Argento (Giallo (2009), Dracula 3D (2012)) and Bernardo Bertolucci (The Triumph of Love (2001), The Conformist (1970)).

Starring: Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Gabriele Ferzetti, Keenan Wynn, Lionel Stander and others.

We start off with a blast to the cinematic nerves in our eyes. There’s one iconic image after another. A cowboy standing in the door-frame, with his coat flailing in the wind. Two of his associates come inside, they take over a railway station without uttering a word. They just wait for a train to arrive, doing pointless and minute things, that don’t serve any other purpose than guide us into their characters. It’s pure cinema, we enjoy what we are seeing as it is happening. We live in the moment on screen, because a few moments later the lifeless bodies of the bandits will fall to the ground and we realise, there was no tangible reason for these characters to be introduced.

The train arrives. It leaves. A man is left standing there, playing a harmonica. They watch each other, a classic suspense building excercise in westerns. The leader of the bandit speaks and soon after that they meet their sorry fates. Now maybe all the posturing wasn’t so pointless after all. If we saw these, distinct in their own bad-ass ways, bandits fall from the gunhand of this harmonica player it means something. It means he’s pretty damn bad-ass himself. I mean, it’s Charles Bronson after all.

Sergio Leone is known for his almost B-movie like, fast-paced and in some ways mocking westerns, but there’s always been something that elevated them way over some classic American westerns, with his iconoclastic approach, while developing his own style and showing incredible potential as a filmmaker. Now here we see Leone fully embracing the iconic wild west, slow pacing, almost Shakespearean themes, Tonino Delli Colli’s absurdly beautiful cinematography, Morricone’s score (now involving some wild electric guitar work), turning this in a full on spaghetti western epic.

A fact that can’t go unmentioned is Henry Fonda as Frank, the villain of the film. He shoots a man and his three kids and then shoots us with his piercing blue eyes, leaving us trembling and asking ourselves how this good guy of American cinema can now be this ruthless bastard.

Charles Bronson plays the main character named Harmonica. I guess, because he plays that harmonica so much. Although, I wouldn’t call him a good player, since he keeps playing the same bit over and over, it’s a cool sounding one, but really it’s not that hard. It’s like his own little theme song. Every hero should have one, but not so often they are played by themselves. Kind of pretentious.

I would by no means call myself an expert on westerns, my familiarity with the genre mostly comes down to Leone’s work and general knowledge of movie history. But including Leone’s films, the few other westerns I’ve seen and clips in documentaries on films, this is the most visually impressive one I’ve seen. I don’t want to constrain it to just westerns, it’s arguably among the best looking movies ever made.

The slow pace at times gets tiring, but it’s not because Leone failed to make an action movie, it certainly wasn’t his intention. He has made a tribute to westerns and that’s what makes it so cool. It’s a compilation, a distillation of the best western imagery. It’s in a way a ‘best of’. But as it sometimes happens when you try to list examples that represent the best of something, you might find it hard to stop, to know where to draw the line of what to keep in. It really is more about the silence before the storm than the storm itself. There’s these sudden bursts of violence, but each preceded by a long, suspenseful game of waiting for the exact right moment. It’s that period in a revolver duel stand-off, where two characters sweat and grimace. A lot of skill is necessary not to cut short or extend to boredom this period. If anyone can pull it off, Leone is the man.

Overall, I loved this movie. How can you not love a movie that has a line like “How can I trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can’t even trust his own pants.”? Maybe not the best introduction to the genre, but definitely worth watching after gaining some experience in the western/spaghetti western genres. Recommended.

“Hey, have you heard this one?”
“Yes, I’ve fucking heard it, you’ve been playing it like non-stop since we met! If you’ll play it again, I’ll jam that harmonica down your throat, you repetitive fuck.”

Review of Barbarella (1968)

17 Aug

Barbarella (1968) is a Franco-Italian sci-fi/comedy/adventure film, based on the Barbarella comic book series by Jean-Claude Forest.

Directed by Roger Vadim (Et Dieu… créa la femme (1956), And God Created Woman (1988)).

Written by Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), The Loved One (1965)) and Roger Vadim (Spirits of the Dead (1968),Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme… (1973)) and others.

Starring: Jane Fonda, John Philip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau, David Hemmings and others.

To be fair, I think every movie should start with a naked Jane Fonda flying around in zero gravity inside after stripping out of a spacesuit inside a spaceship, with its entire interior covered entirely in shag-carpets. Ok, maybe not, it’s enough with one movie that starts like this.

So here we are with this Barbarella chick, who is some sort of law-upholder in a very hippie-ish vision of the far future, where greeting is „love”, people aren’t ashamed to be naked (at least Jane Fonda isn’t) and there’s nothing that doesn’t scream 1960’s.

To give the film some real credit, even though it’s cheesy beyond imagination, the people involved must have been aware of it, it’s not like they tried to do some epic space opera and unintentionally created this cheese-factory.

At one point Barbarella is bitten by some creepy dolls with nutcracker mouths, then rescued by a guy who speaks an unknown language, until she adjusts her „tongue box”. I think they thought it was hilarious themselves. It is often considered a classic ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ movie, but really, it’s so tongue-in-cheek, that I don’t really consider it appropriate.

Then later on it turns out that on Earth in the future, people have sex by holding hands, which, I suppose, is the reason why it’s a peaceful, weapon-less planet now. Because everyone stops waving their dicks around while shooting from machine-guns. However, Barbarella is polite and agrees to do it „the old-fashioned way” and enjoys it quite a lot.

The movie has some really good 1960’s music, which doesn’t change, but distracts you from the plot that makes little to no sense. The set-designs are campy and as actual locations don’t make sense either, but at the same time, they’re very detailed and in a way fascinating.

The only way I could describe the plot is by summarising its structure: Barbarella goes somewhere, someone tries to kill her, she has some sexual experience and then it repeats. We even get to see the hilarious hand sex.

David Hemmings appears as a rebel leader and he is great, his scenes were the highlight of the movie, since when he’s on screen the movie starts feeling like a straight-up comedy or a spoof, but then he goes away and we’re back to weird shit, that is funny in its own ‘who came up with this?’ way, like a scene, where a bunch of chicks are smoking the „essence of man”, which is a guy boiling in a huge fishbowl.

I learnt a lot from this movie, but not one of these things are of any use. I doubt if I’ll ever have the chance to perform CPR on an angel, by cranking his wings from the back.

Overall, I got kind of bored, because the movie threw too much nonsense at me, for me to keep caring what’s going on. Might be fun with some friends and alcohol, otherwise, not recommended.

I don’t… what’s happening? I saw the movie, didn’t I?

Review of Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

19 Jan

Kind of says it all, doesn't it?

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is an Italian exploitation/horror/mockumentary film, because of its graphic portrayal of civilized people interacting with an indigenous tribe, it was charged for being a snuff film.

Directed by Italian director Ruggero Deodato (The House on the Edge of the Park (1980), Last Cannibal World (1977)), who is best-known for doing various gory genre films.

Written by Gianfranco Clerici (The New York Ripper (1982), The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)).

Starring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Ricardo Fuentes and others.

The movie was highly controversial, because of its relatively realistic semi-documentary format and graphic violence and this is one instance (unlike A Serbian Film or Human Centipede) where I actually can see why it’s controversial. It has some really quite disturbing shit and since they used real indigenous people as the tribe members and as we now know the animal killings are real.

It starts with some overhead shots of landscapes with a romantic music in the background, which makes it seem like some made-for-TV romance flick, which it really is not.

For such a low-budget movie the acting is pretty good, which might have also helped the controversy. Robert Kerman is great, he has an awesome pornstache. You know why? That’s right, he’s been a porn actor previously. Also he looks like Thomas Jane. And I really believed all those documentary crew characters were assholes.

The animal killings were just incredibly hard to watch, and especially that turtle gutting scene (spoilers?), I actually had to turn away, for me animal cruelty is really sickening. Well, I didn’t care much for the killing of the tarantula. I guess I would have been fine if I didn’t know they were real, I’d just be sitting there and thinking how awesome the special effects are. So in a way it is a snuff film. And the special effects are great as well.

I think all the animal violence was really unnecessary and after this the characters became irredeemable to me. Definitely one of the most graphic and cruel movies ever, even not counting the animal killings.

I feel bad, but I really liked the film. I thought it went out to shock the audiences and shock it did, 30 years later I was still amazed at its total rawness. And it is also surprisingly well-made, really solid.

And what most exploitation films miss, this actually had a message. You could argue it was unintentional, but I’d like to think it was on purpose. Because it really does serve as a commentary on how journalism and documentary filmmaking have a tendency to concentrate on violence, it was true then and it is even truer today.

Overall, a good movie, but I recommend it only to exploitation fans, because it’s not a film for the faint-hearted.

"Oh, I think I've got something in my eye."

Review of The Last Man On Earth (1964)

29 Dec

The Last Man On Earth (1964) is an Italian sci-fi/thriller/horror film, based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. Yes, it was also adapted as The Omega Man (1971), I Am Legend (2007) and I Am Omega (2007).

Directed by the Italian director Ubaldo Ragona (Una vergine per un bastardo (1966), Baldoria nei Caraibi (1961)).

Written by William F. Leicester (The High Chaparral (1967 TV), Bonanza (1959 TV)), some work was done by Matheson himself, but because he wasn’t satisfied with the results, so he was credited as Logan Swanson.

Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and others.

Richard Matheson’s novel has been brought to the screen more than enough times, and as far as I can tell we can stop expecting a film that would do it justice. All the adaptations work best at the beginning where it follows the heroes while they have (a quote from this film) “Another day to live through. Better get started.”, but start falling apart when they try to do something different.

However, this could be considered the closest adaptation and maybe for that reason it is also my favourite one.

It used to not be uncommon for Italians to make horror movies for American market and this is one of those Italian-produced “cheap” horror flicks in English. And it kind of suffers from this aspect. It isn’t a conventional 60’s horror b-movie, so the opening credits in spooky fonts and over-the-top dramatic score add unnecessary cheesiness to an otherwise pretty subtle movie. It has a certain mood, that is just perfect but then, when it gets interrupted by the inappropriate score I got pretty pissed off. It does improve later on, but mostly because the film becomes more dramatic.

Some subtle music cues and even total silence would be much better suited for the post-apocalyptic feel. At one point Vincent Price puts on an LP and that serves as a lot better soundtrack.

I don’t know what happened there, but there are some montages of Price killing vampires by hammering stakes into their chests, but it shows it from a low angle so you only see him hammering away in what seems like totally random directions.

Vincent Price isn’t bad as Neville, but is miscast and I guess was cast mostly because of his horror-cred. He’s a good actor, but has this vibe about him that is just too elegant and not enough everyman-like. Franca Bettoia is ok, is it just me or does she look a lot like Jenna Elfman?

The “vampires” are portrayed pretty accurately as they are basically a bit more intelligent zombies, I suppose the term just wasn’t that well-known when the book was written.

It’s amusing how Neville’s home video looks like a 50’s TV show, when it is shown being shot with a Super 8 camera.

Overall  a good movie, best I Am Legend adaptation yet and totally recommended.

"I'm here to kill vampires and grow pencil moustaches. And my moustache is fully grown."