APRIL MOVIE THON 2: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

April 30: How the (Not) West Was Won — A Western not made in America.

My Uncle Bill’s name was Frank, not Bill, but at some time in his teenage years he decided that he wanted to be Bill, after Buffalo Bill, and everyone allowed him to be. So even into his senior years, no one knew his real name. I tell you this to establish his cowboy movie bonafides. He and my father would often quiz each other into the night around a campfire about famous stars and they seemed to agree that Lash LaRue was the best, but then again, Lee Van Cleef was the best bad guy.

We Italians know something of Westerns.

After the success of For a Few Dollars More, United Artists approached the film’s screenwriter, Luciano Vincenzoni, to sign a contract for the rights to this film and the next one. Producer Alberto Grimaldi, director Sergio Leone and he had no plans, but with their blessing, Vincenzoni came up with the idea of three rogues — the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood), Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez (Eli Wallach) and Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) — seeking hidden gold sometime after the Civil War. They got a bigger budget, Eastwood got $250,000, a Ferrari and a percentage, then the camera rolled.

This would be the last role that Eastwood would do for Leone, who he saw as too much of a perfectionist. Harmonica in Once Upon a Time In the West would go to the man who was originally going to play Angel Eyes, Charles Bronson.

The film begins with Angel Eyes killing men on his way to finding Confederate gold while The Man With No Name and Tuco keep pulling a scam where The Man collects the bounty on Tuco’s head, saves him and then they do it again in a different town. After dealing with Tuco’s constant complaining, he finally strands him in the desert and the “Rat,” as Eastwood’s character describes him, gets his revenge by marching him across the same hot and desolate no man’s land.

The twists and turns of this movie find a man named Bill Carson (Antonio Casale)  burying gold in one grave in a cemetery. Tuco knows the name of the burial ground while The Man knows the grave. $200,000 worth of gold is hidden away, which is a lot of money even today, so you can imagine why everyone is willing to do anything for it.

American audiences were tired of Italian cowboys by this point and who can say why they were so dumb? Roger Ebert realized this and said that he “described a four-star movie, but only gave it three stars, perhaps because it was a Spaghetti Western and so could not be art.”

As bad as Van Cleef seems on screen, he did have some rules about being a good person in his real life. He was supposed to slap around Maria (Rada Rassimov) in one scene and said, “I can’t hit a woman.” Rassimov told him, “Don’t worry. I’m an actress. Even if you slap me for real, it’s no problem”, but that’s a double slapping her. Van Cleef said, “There are very few principles I have in life. One of them is I don’t kick dogs, and the other one is I don’t slap women in movies.”

Even the name of this movie is ironic, used past film and having a meaning in actual life. The Mexican standoff found its way into many movies, particularly the work of Quentin Tarantino, who said that the final scene is his favorite of all time: “During the three-way bullring showdown at the end, the music builds to the giant orchestra crescendo, and when it gets to the first big explosion of the theme there’s a wide shot of the bullring. After you’ve seen all the little shots of the guys getting into position, you suddenly see the whole wideness of the bullring and all the graves around them. It’s my favorite shot in the movie, but I’ll even say it’s my favorite cut in the history of movies.”

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Requiem for a Gringo (1968)

April 30: How the (Not) West Was Won — A Western not made in America.

In the United Nations that is exploitation cinema, I love the connections that are built. It may seem unexpected, but the line between Japanese samurai cinema and the Italian Western are incredibly direct. Yojimbo is A Fistful of DollarsRequiem for a Gringo has elements of Harakiri.

Directed by Eugenio Martin (Horror Express) and José Luis Merino, this film is also known as Requiem for Django because, well, in 1968 every movie it seemed was about Django. The Django in this film is also known as Ross Logan and he’s hunting down a gang — while dressed in a leopard skin! — using astronomy to plan his attack during an eclipse. He also knows how to play the gang’s personalities and desires against one another, which is a step beyond the traditional Italian Western hero who may go in guns blazing.

He can also precict storms, which is a strong skill to have in the West.

He puts Porfirio Carranza (Fernando Sancho) and his men — Tom Leader (Rubén Rojo), Ted Corby (Carlo Gaddi) and Charley Fair (Aldo Sambrell) — at odds with one another. Meanwhile, the stories of two women — Alma (Femi Benussi, So Sweet, So Dead), who is supposedly the property of Carranza but is already sleeping with Leader but she knows she’s trapped in a gang of maniacs, and Nina (Marisa Paredes), a young woman constantly pursued by Corby and trying to stay pure for just one more day — take more of a center stage than in other Eurowesterns.

I love how this genre bends and flexs to accept new ideas, even if we live within the constant Western cycles of murder and revenge.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Matalo! (1970)

April 30: How the (Not) West Was Won — A Western not made in America.

It would take other film industries decades to equal the sheer volume that the Italian exploitation machine could accomplish. In the four years since Django and five since A Fistful of Dollars and West and Soda, a traditionally animated movie whos escreation predates Leone’s film, hundreds of cowboys thundered out of the European West and several genres emerged, from comedies and zapata westerns to films centered on the tragic hero, horror westerns and this film, which is uncatagorizable but could maybe be an acid horror art deconstruction.

Cesare Canevari only directed nine movies, but wow if he didn’t hit nearly every genre: an early Western (Per un dollaro a Tucson si muore), giallo (A Hyena In the Safe), an early Italian Emmanuelle (A Man for Emmanuelle), Eurospy (Un tango dalla Russia), Ajita Wilson’s first movie (The Nude Princess), late era giallo with plenty of sleaze (Killing of the Flesh) and Naziploitation (the go all the way madness that is  The Gestapo’s Last Orgy).

It starts with a desperado named Bart (Corrado Pani) walking through the town as cocky as possible, despite the fact that he’s headed to the gallows. He even puts his own neck in the noose, knowing that some Mexican bandits are about to save his neck. His walk back out of town is even more audacious, as he’s just stood on the precipice of death and watched the chaos that he has ordered come true. He somehow tops that by killing off the men who saved him before meeting up with his friends Ted (Antonio Salines) and Phil (Luis Dávila) in a ghost town where the movie decides to slow down as they explore an abandoned hotel as electric guitars scream and wind blows through every frame of this film.

They’re joined by Mary (Claudia Gravy, Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior), a snarling force of female nature that finds herself strong enough to be on the side of stagecoach robbing evil. That robbery seems to cost Bart his life and the film switches gears as the gang hides out in the ghost town, abusing an old woman until Ray (Lou Castel) and a younger widow (Mirella Pamphili) arrive and they too are abused by the gang. Luckily, Ray has a horse who seems smarter than him and he’s quite good with a boomerang, which this movie uses for wild POV shots as he whips them at the gunmen.

What’s wild is that a year earlier, Dio non paga il sabato (Kill the Wickeds) was directed by Tanio Boccia and it’s nearly the same movie but shot as if it were a normal film, not the sometimes wandering, other times hyperfocused Matalo!

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: The Great Silence (1968)

April 30: How the (Not) West Was Won — A Western not made in America.

When you’re looking for a happy movie to start the day with, let me not recommend The Great Silence, a film that Sergio Corbucci created after the deaths of Che Guevara and Malcolm X.

But let me definitely recommend it any other time.

Between Minnesota ClayDjangoThe Mercenary and Navajo Joe, Corbucci contributed more to Italian Westerns than nearly anyone short of Leone. But he was getting tired.

Corbucci said, “Every time I make a Western, I say “This is the last”. I get tired and nervous; I hate the horses and the desert. I go back to town wanting to make a film about a man who drives a car, uses a phone and watches TV. But once I’m there, I start thinking how nothing is finer in the cinema than a horseman, with the setting sun and a red sky. That makes me want to carry on. And I think up another Western with my actors. ”

So one more cowboy movie. But this time, in the snow.

Italiam Westerns had made their way, well, west thanks to casting American actors, which worked thanks to dubbing. Marcello Mastroianni had the idea of playing a mute gunfighter and told Corbucci that he had always wanted to appear in a Western. Just the fact that he didn’t know English may have held him back. So when Corbucci first met Jean-Louis Trintignant — Franco Nero turnd it down to be in Django — he discovered he didn’t speak English. So instead of dubbing, he could play the hero in this movie, Silence.

For the villain, who is a worse human being than Klaus Kinski? Corbucci took this further by asking him to base his role on Gorca, the vampire played by Boris Karloff in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. Bava’s movie would influence this film in many ways. Kinski was Kinski on set, having an affair while his wife and child were there; also he told Frank Wolff — who played Sheriff Gideon Burnett — “I don’t want to work with a filthy Jew like you; I’m German and hate Jews.”  Wolff responded by strangling Kinski.

The Great Silence also has a cast of noted Italian actors, including Luigi Pistilli (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key), Bruno Corazzari (Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man), Raf Baldassarre (the tour guide in Eyeball) and Mario Brega (a butcher who went into acting; he’s Corporal Wallace in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). They’re joined by Vonetta McGee, who dropped out of pre-law at San Francisco State College and moved to Rome. This was her first movie and she was invited back to America by Sidney Poitier, where she became a blaxploitation star. She’s also in Repo Man, probably because not only is she a great actress, but because Alex Cox is a big Italian western fan.

The movie that emerged is set up like a traditional Western — Loco (Kinski) and his men are bounty hunters who have hunted a group of people unfairly condemned as criminals; they use the law of the bounty to cover the fact that as capitalists they love money and as maniacs they love to kill. Silence should be the strong and silent man who rides into town, cleans things up and rides back out. But he’s different because he uses a gun — a Mauser C96 semi-automatic pistol — that gives him an unfair advantage over his enemies, men who he stops by shooting off their thumbs, keeping them from doing any more violence.

Yet even his heroism, even his love for a good woman — Pauline (McGee) — can’t save him. But in 1968, just the fact that a white man and a black woman had a love scene was subversive (as subversive as the hero being ultimately ineffectual). Corbucci said, “People don’t go to the cinema to see love scenes. Buñuel was right when he said the most embarrassing thing, for a filmmaker, is to point a camera at a couple kissing. Nothing is more banal than a kiss. Generally you can’t have love scenes in stories which are action-based – though in The Great Silence I shot quite a beautiful love scene between a black woman and a mute. There was something very beautiful and very morbid about it. This was the only love scene I ever included in a film of this genre…”

Yet Alex Cox said that the real moral of this movie is that “sometimes, even though you know you’ll fail, you still do the right thing,” which might make Silence, even though he fails, the most noble of all Italian Western heroes.

That said, Corbucci also delivered two other endings:

In one, Silence is shot by Loco’s henchman in both of his hands before he can draw his gun. Instead of killing his enemy, Loco tells his men to leave. The fate of everyone is left up in the air.

Yet there’s also a happy ending. Seeing as how this would be released over the holidays, Corbucci had a different ending where Loco draws before Silence initiates their duel. Yet the sheriff has survived, helping Silence to kill the other bounty hunters, showing that he has created a metal sleeve to protect his hand, just like Clint Eastwood did in A Fistful of Dollars. Silence agrees to be a deputy and everyone leaves happy.

But that doesn’t work, does it?

The Grand Silence didn’t play the UK until 1990 and the U.S. until 2001. When it was screened for 20th Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck, he was so offended by the ending that he nearly swallowed his cigar and refused to release it in the U.S. In Italy, a viewer was so upset by the closing that he shot the screen with a gun.

So maybe wait to watch this until later in the day and not immediately upon waking up like I did.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Rollerball (2002)

April 29: Drop A Bomb — Please share your favorite critical and financial flop with us!

I’m usually nice about movies, even when they fail on every level, but why the fuck does this movie exist and who is it for?

I should just stop this article after that sentence.

Somehow, John McTiernan is the same person who made Die Hard and Predator. How did we get here?

Like the 1975 movie, it’s based on William Harrison’s short story “Roller Ball Murder,” but unlike that movie, it’s set in the present, avoids a lot of the political issues of the world and oh yeah — when the James Caan-starring original movie was made, people knew and understood a different roller derby, placing it into the same strange world as pro wrestling and not how we see it today, which is a female-centric sport that has no predetermined elements.

Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein, maybe a step down from Caan, end of tweet) and Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) are the only good players on Kazakhstan’s Zhambel Horsemen. Sure, everyone gets destroyed but them, but team owner Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno; if I wrote he deserves better, I would have to say it for everyone in this movie, so just add “he or she deserves better” every time you read most of the names in this) keeps them supplied with money, booze, cars and women like their teammate Aurora (Rebecca Romijn in a black wig; you’d be amazed with black bangs can do to a heart rate). The secret is that Alexi and his henchman Sanjay (Naveen Andrews) have been making the game more dangerous to make it more popular.

You know who knows about worked or semi-worked sports churning up and spitting out bodies? Former ECW mastermind Paul Herman and MMA fighter Oleg Taktarov who show up in this. So does Shane McMahon, which meant this show was promoted all over WWE TV.

How did we get here? The first draft of the script was considered by many to be superior to the original film, yet McTiernan didn’t like it because it focused too much on social commentary. He wanted action and action he created, even if initial test screeners showed the movie to be confusing and even restrained when it should be going for it with a hard R if there was no story.

Thirty minutes were cut out of the first cut, the entire ending was re-shot and changed, massive reshoots and re-edits happened and some of the cuts were made because MGM said the movie was “too Asian,” which for many reasons — mostly all the movie in the Chinese movie market — would never happen today. Oh yeah — the score by Brian Transeau was “too Arabic” and was replaced with a new score by Éric Serra. And then an entire sequence looked too dark, so they reshot it, then made it look like it was all green night vision and you still couldn’t see it.

It made $25.9 million on a budget of $70 million but hey — Slipknot is in it!

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Green Lantern (2011)

April 29: Drop A Bomb — Please share your favorite critical and financial flop with us!

Martin Campbell made two Zorro and two James Bond movies, but that in no way seemed to prepare him for this DC Universe film. It took a long time to get this far, as Warner Brothers had spent nearly 15 years working on ideas, starting with Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino turning down the film. Robert Smigel wrote a treatment with Jack Black in the lead, but comic book fans hated that.

Ryan Reynolds, who played Green Lantern Hal Jodan, said “You really need a visionary behind a movie like that, but it was the classic studio story: “We have a poster, but we don’t have a script or know what we want; let’s start shooting!”

It was also one of those movies that needed to be a big hit to even break even. In fact, to make money, it needed to bring in $500 million.

Roger Ebert probably summed it up best: “It intends to be a sound-and-light show, assaulting the audience with sensational special effects. If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.”

The Green Lantern Corps — which are a lot like the science fiction series Lensmen — has protected the galaxy for billions of years. Our sector of the galaxy — 2814 — has been protected by Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) until the alien demon Parallax (Clancy Brown) escapes and mortally wounds him; he passes on his ring, power battery and oath to cocky pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds). He works for Ferris Aircraft, operated by his former girlfriend Carrol Ferris (Blake Lively; probably the only positive of this movie is that this is where she and Reynold met; they later married in a plantation, which is still kind of weird to me). He soon goes to the home of the Green Lanterns, Oa, where he is trained by Tomar-Re (the voice of Geoffrey Rush), Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Corps leader Sinestro (Mark Strong), who doubts Jordan to the point that he goes back to Earth.

Meanwhile, Senator Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins) has gotten the body of Abin Sur to his strange son Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) and as he’s exposed to Parallax’s energy, his head starts to grow and his evil side comes out. In the comics, Parallax caused Hal Jordan to turn evil. Here, it’s just a CGI monster to throw into the sun.

Reynolds hated the movie and working with Campbell, who wanted Bradley Cooper and felt stuck with the actor, who was happy when it combed. How happy? In Deadpool 2, he goes back in time and stops himself from taking the role.

Other than Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett, who joined the cast nine days before shooting), other DC characters include Green Lanterns Hannu, Apros, NautKeLoi, Norchavius, Voz, Larvox, Morro, MedPhyll, R’amry Holl, Rot Lop Fan. Boddikka, Galius Zed, Amanita, Penelops, Stel, Green Man, M’Dahna, Isamot Kol, Bzza, Lin Canar, Salakk and Chaselon. What, no Ch’P, Katma Tui or Arisia?

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: New Mutants (2020)

April 29: Drop A Bomb — Please share your favorite critical and financial flop with us!

The thirteenth and final X-Men movie before Disney took over the franchise, New Mutants feels like an orphan, a movie that had no chance and that kept coming up against a corporate buyout, COVID-19, three years of off and on production and reshoots.

For what it’s worth, Disney claimed they never saw any box office in this movie, a film that TheFaulty In Our Stars director Josh Boone and writer Knate Lee called “Stephen King meets John Hughes-style horror.” To be fair, Boone was a big fan of the original comics, remixing his own comic book using panels from the Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz era of New Mutants as a proof of concept for what a film trilogy could be. He even sent a copy to Sienkiewicz, who said that the director had it figured out and wasn’t just ripping off his work.

Boone also saw the film’s Demon Bear villain as one he had real emotional ties to, as he was Evangelical Southern Baptist parents: “…they believed in the rapture; they believed the devil was real; they believed in demons.” Another influence that made me laugh was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors because if anything, that movie completely rips off the feel of the New Mutants comics, which came out four years before Craven’s movie.

The New Mutants who show up are Danielle Moonstar / Mirage, who is played by Blu Hunt and the film’s lead; Anya Taylor-Joy is Illyana Rasputin / Magik, the daughter of X-Man Colossus, yet the comic connections are downplayed; Maisie Williams  (Arya Stark from Game of Thrones) is Rahne Sinclair / Wolfsbane; Henry Zaga is Roberto da Costa / Sunspot and Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers from Stranger Things) is Sam Guthrie / Cannonball. They’re guided by Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga) yet trapped in a facility that they believe is provided by Professor X. The truth is much more sinister. Literally, as she’s working for the Essex Corporation, which is probably X-Men villain Mr. Sinister.

It feels like this movie had no chance, but I really liked it. I mean, Lockheed the dragon shows up, Magik’s Soulsword looks great and the horror story works. I wish the sequels — Warlock would be played by Sascha Baron Cohen and the Inferno storyline would be the third movie — had been made, but as Disney took over the property, no one seemed interested in the success of this movie.


April 29: Drop A Bomb — Please share your favorite critical and financial flop with us!

Blackhat made $19.7 million at the box office against a budget of $70 million, which makes it a bomb, but does how many people came to see a movie on initial release mean it’s a bad movie? Nope.

When a nuclear plant in Hong Kong goes into meltdown and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange gets hacked, it turns out that Captain Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) of the People’s Liberation Army cyberwarfare unit designed the code behind both systems. He asks that his college roommate, Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), be let out of prison to stop the hacker before they further destabilize several companies and governments. This includes a plan to sabotage a large dam and destroy several major tin mines in Malaysia, with the hacker buying into different futures that will profit from these attacks.

What emerges is a mix between art film and Hollywood action; what’s strange is that no person who spends hours typing on a computer — trust me, I know — looks as good as Hemsworth. But you know, only Michael Mann could direct a scene about hacking a PDF into obtaining a password and making it look that sexy and vibrant. That takes an artistic skill that so few directors lack.

Viola Davis, who plays FBI Special Agent Carol Barrett, and Holt McCallany, who is Deputy United States Marshal Jessup, are both really good in this, but they’re both always the best parts of any film they appear in.

I kind of like how by the end of this movie, it’s basically Hathaway and Dawai’s sister Chen Lien (Tang Wei) against the hackers and the world, having only each other to depend on.

The Arrow Video 4K UHD release of Blackhat has both the US and international versions of the film, well as new audio commentary by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry, interviews with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, behind the scenes features, an image gallery, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Doug John Miller and an illustrated collector’€™s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andrew Graves. You can get it from MVD. There’s also a blu ray version.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home (1987)

April 28: Alan Smithee — IMDB has 115 movies credited to the Alan Smithee pseudonym, which was created by the Directors Guild of America for use when a director doesn’t want their name on a movie.

This movie’s Alan Smithee is the combination of Terry Windsor, who had only directed Party Party when this was made, and his replacement Paul Aaron, who was unhappy with the final movie. Arron also wrote The Octagon and directed A Force of One, which doesn’t prepare one for comedy.

Morgan Stewart (Jon Cryer) is the son of Republican Senator Tom Stewart (Nicholas Pryor) and has spent most of his childhood at a boarding school while his mother Nancy (Lynn Redgrave) manages the family life, all with a plan of increasing the elder Stewart’s chance to be President. Yet when the Senatorial race gets hard, the idea of a son looks good in the media, so Morgan comes back home.

Morgan is really into horror movies, wearing a shirt for The Undead and putting posters for House of Wax, Dial M for MurderThe Mole People and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe Curse of FrankensteinAttack of the Puppet PeoplePsycho and Tales of Terror up in his room. I mean, he even has a Zombie poster, a Day of the Dead shirt and goes to the mall to meet George Romero. We never see George’s face, he seems too small and he doesn’t have on a giant fishing vest, so I think it’s not him.

Seeing how Tom’s campaign manager is played by Paul Gleason, you know that something bad is going to happen. It’s pretty rote, but I mean, what did you expect?

But Morgan seems pretty cool. He has a Tobe Hooper-signed chainsaw, right? I was kind of hoping he’d use it on his mother after she takes down and tosses all his amazing posters. But man, even in today’s world where women go to horror conventions — I’m married to a lovely one! — the fact that Morgan meets Emily (Viveka Davis) while waiting to get The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh: The Films of George A. Romero signed seems a bit like a science fiction film.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: The Owl (1991)

April 28: Alan Smithee — IMDB has 115 movies credited to the Alan Smithee pseudonym, which was created by the Directors Guild of America for use when a director doesn’t want their name on a movie.

Alex L’Hiboux (Adrian Paul, Highlander: The Series) — his last name is the owl, get it? — is a vigilante who is known as The Owl because he hasn’t slept since his wife and daughter were killed eight years ago. Thanks to a young girl named Lisa (Erika Flores), he takes on a case to find her father and reconnects with the policewoman who helped him on the night of the tragedy that changed his life, Danny Santerre (Patricia Charbonneau).

Originally broadcast as a television pilot on CBS from 10:45 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, August 3, 1991 — this is what we call burning off a pilot — this was a 48-minute episode. When it was released on home video, every single shot ever filmed was reused and padded to make it 84 minutes long. Director and writer Tom Holland asked for his name to be taken off the home video.

Brian Thomson, who plays the bartender who is The Owl’s frenemy, was the Night Slasher in Cobra, Bozworth in Fright Night 2 (which Holland did not work on) and Shao Khan in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.  Oh yeah, speaking of people in Cannon movies, Rick Zumwalt — Bull Hurley from Over the Top, Joshua in Penitentiary III and Boom Boom in Rockula — also shows up. And holy Canadian crap, there’s Alan Scarfe, the dad from Cathy’s Curse!

You know why people liked the Punisher back before his logo became a Nazi flag for cowards? Because you could have empathy for what he’s been through. The Owl seems like such a jerk that it’s hard to ever feel anything for him.