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Thursday, July 12, 2018
Praises need to be sung about the releases coming from Arrow Video. Not only are they providing quality releases of horror genre and Japanese films they’ve also been releasing a vast amount of Italian cinema as well. In addition to the large number of giallo films from that country they’ve been bringing out many lost or forgotten spaghetti westerns as well, so named because they put the countries own spin on the western genre. While most are well aware of the most famous, the “man with no name” films of Clint Eastwood, there were many others as well. Django, Ringo, Sabata and Trinity were all part of the genre. But I’d never heard of Sabata until this set was announced. Now I’m finding it to be one of the best series of westerns that were made.
Let’s get the box set covered before each movie included here. To start with Arrow has brought out the best editions of the movies ever put on disc. Not only that, these are the initial first five films rather than later films that used the name but not necessarily the real character. These blu-rays include one film in a brand new 2k restoration from original film elements and the other four from the original camera negatives made exclusively for this release. What does that mean? It means the most gorgeous looking editions of the film you are likely to ever find. In addition to that they’ve made the films accessible to those unwilling to read subtitles by offering all five with dubbed English language tracks. I’ll post the extras which are incredible as well after the reviews which I’ll try to keep short.
First up is IF YOU MEET SARTANA…PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (1968). This film introduces us to the character himself. The film is a series of double crosses among thieves with Sartana there to clean up. It begins with a couple in a carriage killed by killer Morgan (Klaus Kinski) and his men. Sartana arrives in time to take out the bandits with the exception of Morgan but too late to save the couple. Switch to a stagecoach attacked by a gang led by General Jose Manuel Mendoza (Fernando Sancho) who steal chests filled with gold. The gang is then killed by hired gun Lasky (William Berger) and his gang and the chests taken. Telling them he’ll meet them later, Lasky kills the gang and then discovers that the chests contain nothing but rocks. All of this chicanery revolves around a politician and banker who are setting up both sides in an attempt to vacate with the gold themselves. But they didn’t count on Sartana taking an interest in what is happening. The character as introduced here feels like a James Bond out west. Dressed in a cape, carrying a four chamber derringer and displaying a deft hand when it comes to card tricks, he’s a rogue but likeable character able to shoot with unerring skill and a sense of humor about him that’s subtle. The performance by Gianni Garko as Sartana is perfection. He brings the character to life with an ease that’s amazing to watch. Thankfully he would go on to play the character in 3 of the remaining 4 films.
Next up is I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH (1969). This time around the film opens with a bank being robbed by a gang led by who appears to be Sartana. The same cape, hat and skill with a gun are on display and he is pegged for the robbery. It isn’t long before the wanted posters are circulated and several bounty hunters are on his trail. But we know it isn’t him and watch as he attempts to find out who the real culprit is while at the same time avoiding being killed by the various bounty hunters. Garko returns as Sartana here as does Kinski playing bounty hunter Hot Dead. This time around Sartana picks up a sidekick of sorts in one Buddy Ben (Frank Wolff). The movie offers a little more humor this time around but the same style, panache and gunplay that the character possesses take center stage.
The third film in the set is SARTANA’S HERE…TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN (1970) with a new actor in the lead, George Hilton. This time around Sartana is a bounty hunter on the trail of a man with a price on his head. The film opens with him setting up a picnic on a hilltop and watching as the man rides shotgun on a gold shipment. Before he has a chance to take him out the shipment is attacked by a Mexican gang. Rather than take the gold though they toss dynamite into the back of the wagon and ride off. Sartana puts out the dynamite and checks out the cargo only to find the shipment is actually filled with dirt instead of gold. Taking the man’s body in and collecting the bounty, Sartana learns more about the gang who attacked the wagon and goes looking for them. Much like the first film we have a greedy mine owner who set out to steal his own gold. Hilton does a decent job as Sartana here but like most series of films with a distinct actor in the lead role it feels like something is missing. Still the end result is yet another great movie in the series and a fine example of the spaghetti western genre.
Fourth is HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND…SARTANA WILL PAY (1970). Garko returns as Sartana (yay!). As what appears to be something that happens to him non-stop, Sartana witnesses a brutal massacre. Investigating on his own he discovers the town of Indian Creek where nearly every single person in town is hell bent on buying up the property once owned by those massacred. No one here is above suspicion including the town sheriff. This leaves Sartana to find out what is really going on. Of course various bad guys are sent to kill him and dispatched with. Not only does he have the cape and derringer still but he’s added a new weapon with razor sharp edged cards he throws. Over the top, certainly, more fun, absolutely.
The last film in the set is LIGHT THE FUSE…SARTANA IS COMING (1970). Sartana opens the film by killing a corrupt sheriff and allowing himself to be captured and sent to prison. All of this is so he can meet with another prisoner named Granville. Coming to his aid and helping him escape he’s told by Granville of a deal gone sour involving $2 million in counterfeit money and $1 million in gold. Double crossed, framed and sent to prison he promises to split the money with Sartana if he helps. He agrees and arrives in the town of Mansfield to discover not everyone has the same story that Granville told. Double crosses and triple crosses continue to fill out this fifth Sartana film as well as yet another crooked banker. In the end it’s another great movie that entertains from start to finish.
So that’s the movies and as I said they’ve never looked this good since they were originally released. And that should be enough to keep fans happy, right? But not when you realize this is an Arrow release. Arrow doesn’t do things half-assed. The set is packed tight with extras as well. Here is what you’ll find with this set:
-An audio commentary on IF YOU MEET SARTANA…PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH with filmmaker Mike Siegel
-Audio commentaries on I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH and HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND…SARTANA WILL PAY by spaghetti western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke
-Gianfranco Parolini on IF YOU MEET SARTANA…PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH, a brand new interview with the writer
-Sal Borgese on I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH and LIGHT THE FUSE…SARTANA IS COMING, two new interviews with the actor
-Ernesto Gastaldi on I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH and LIGHT THE FUSE, two new interviews with the writer
-Roberto Dell Acqua on HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND…SARTANA WILL PAY, a brand new interview with the actor
-SSARTANA LIVES, an archive featurette on LIGHT THE FUSE…SARTANA IS COMING featuring interviews with actor Gianni Garko and director Giuliano Carnimeo
-SARTANA SHOOTS FIRST, a brand new interview with George Hilton on SARTANA’S HERE…TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN
-Erika Blanc on SARTANA’S HERE…TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN, a brand new interview with the actor
-Tony Askin on SARTANA’S HERE…TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN, a brand new interview with the actor
-A brand new video essay on the major actors and supporting players in the official Sartana films
-Galleries of original promotional images from the Mike Siegal Archive for all five films
-Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
-An illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Roberto Curti
Whew! That’s an exhaustive amount of extras. When you think of watching all five films as well as all of the extras plan on making it a weekend binge watch marathon!
I’ve praised Arrow Video time and time again and once more they have not disappointed fans. Having never been exposed to the character of Sartana I’ve found he’s as memorable as that of Sabata and the man-with-no-name. Each and every film in this collection is entertaining to the extreme. I didn’t find one that I didn’t enjoy and know already that I’ll be revisiting the movies from time to time. There is little doubt in my mind that I’ll enjoy them as well the second, third and possibly fourth times around. My guess is that fans of westerns, spaghetti westerns and movies will find something here to enjoy as well. If you fall into the first two categories then by all means add this to your collection. It might seem pricy but when you consider you’re getting 5 feature films as well as all of those extras the price is far less than most single films being released. It’s a great investment for fans that you won’t regret.
Click here to order.
Click here to order.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
A recent article in the LA Times lamented the decline in attendance of summer comedies. It noted that past comedies seemed a treasure trove at the box office but that lately most comedies were doing less than stellar business. Whereas many had done well over the $100 million dollar mark years ago the frequency of that happening recently had dropped to well below that. Even with low production costs they weren’t returning a profit. In the article it cited BLOCKERS as a movie that fared well taking in just $92 million globally. After watching it I was perplexed as to how that was possible.
BLOCKERS tells the story of two sets of three individuals. Three young girls meet on their first day of school and become lifelong friends. At the same time so do their parents Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz). Time passes and the girls grow, remaining friends. The parents do as well somewhat with Lisa raising her daughter as a single mother, Mitchell and his wife having a second child and Hunter divorcing and not being around as often.
Tonight is the big night, senior prom and the last big bash before heading off to college. Julie (Kathryn Newton) has decided that tonight she will also take the plunge and lose her virginity. Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) decides that she will as well, forming a pact with her two friends. Sam (Gideon Adlon) holds out for a bit, knowing that she’s more attracted to women than men but not acting on it yet, but eventually falls in as well.
Their plans go a bit off when Lisa finds her daughter has left open her messaging app on her laptop, giving her access to the girl’s conversations via chat. Sharing it with Mitchell and Hunter, Mitchell agrees they need to put a stop to it while Hunter says the girls should have their fun. Lisa and Mitchell disagree and the trio set off to find the girls.
This leads us to a back and forth scenario where on one hand we see the girls and what is going on with their plans as they move from the prom to a party to a hotel room. Each of them has their own issues to deal with: Julie hiding the fact from her clinging mother that she wants to go across country to UCLA, Kayla unsure that she wants to go through with things and Sam discovering what her real sexuality is.
On the parents side we witness them get into more problematic situations played for laughs. This includes watching the parents of Julie’s boyfriend having sex through a window, “butt chugging” beer from a beer bong and having a car explode. “Hilarity” soon follows.
As with most movies involving kids these days to come from Hollywood the kids prove to be smarter than the adults and make their own choices no matter what the parents think. The parents look stupid and ridiculous in their attempts to thwart the girl’s plans. And we get a happy ending by the final credits.
The movie provides so few laughs, most of them resorting to gross out mode or sex jokes, that it made me sad to think that this has become the state of film comedy. It’s as if some 13 year old boy has determined what will be find its way on screen, giggling all the way. When I saw the film was directed by a woman I was stunned.
In a world of #metoo and where women are becoming more empowered I couldn’t understand why a movie like this would reach out to anyone with the exception of hormonal teen boys. Is allowing young girls in a movie to act as crude and rude as their male counterparts really a step forward? Does someone really find that to be an encouraging thing, something that should be emulated and promoted? For myself I found it to be a step back. If you believe being as stupid and lowbrow as your male counterparts is a step forward I think you might be out of touch.
Zero stand out performances here, nothing that I would call a career maker or breaker. The look and feel of the movie is well done but then so are many TV movies. I found this movie to be one that will disappear quickly and not be well remembered.
While watching I couldn’t help but think to myself how low comedy has gone. Having recently watched a few classic comedies from the distant past and reading titles in that LA Times article like TRADING PLACES, GHOSTBUSTERS and AIRPLANE, I kept thinking how memorable those movies were and will remain while movies like this will become a blip on the radar. It’s not that audiences are turning their backs on comedy it’s that comedies are offering so little and presenting items that appeal to just below the lowest common denominator. If you want comedies to bring people in to the theater try growing up. Sex comedies of the 30s and 40s offered dry wit and hilarious writing. Today’s comedies offer “hold my beer and watch me do something stupid”. Sorry, I think I’ll pass.
There is a marketplace for movies that places them straight to disc. If they’re lucky they get a short release in theaters, more often than not in major metropolitan cities that will provide the theater owner with enough ticket buyers to make it worth their while. These movies aren’t necessarily made to go straight to disc but they end up that way. Budget cuts, fading star power for the central actor and sometimes to be used as tax write offs, these films can still provide plenty of entertainment, just not enough that they deserve a wide theatrical release. ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES is one of those films.
If you forgot about the first ESCAPE PLAN released in 2013 that film starred Sylvester Stallone as Ray Breslin, the co-owner of a company that tests the reliability of newfangled prisons being constructed, who is betrayed by the firm’s co-owner and left to rot in a new prison. He was able to escape with the help of two loyal workers at the company and the assistance of fellow prisoner Emil Rottmayer who was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. That movie had enough residual star power in both leads to garner a decent take at the box office. Not quite this time around.
The new film has Breslin as the sole owner of the company now and their business plan now includes rescuing hostages. When the film opens a plan goes wrong due to a member of the team, Kimbral (Wes Chatham), deviating from the plan and a hostage dying because of it. Returning from the mission Breslin fires Kimbral. Team leader Shu Ren (Huang Xiaoming) feels responsible and Breslin gives him some time off to get himself together.
A year later Shu is protecting his cousin Yusheng (Chen Tang), a hi-tech genius about to display a new product, when the two are captured and taken prisoner in a new facility known as Hades. With little information as to the layout and who is behind it all, Shu tries to learn as much as he can in a prison that pits inmate against inmate if daily battles to seek rewards or punishments.
On the outside Breslin becomes aware of what’s happened and tries to find Shu and his cousin. Along with Hush (Curtis Jackson) and Abigail (Jaime King replacing Amy Ryan) they try and find their way through a computer trail of money to find the location of the prison. At the same time he approaches an old colleague named DeRosa (Dave Bautista) for assistance as well.
Inside the prison Shu recognizes Kimbral among the prisoners. Later another member of his team, Luke (Jesse Metcalf) who has been working with Breslin to find him on the outside, is captured and placed in Hades as well. The three are now trying to work together to find a link in the system from the inside. If you don’t guess where this is heading I won’t spoil it for you.
Eventually the big guy, Breslin, has to make his way inside the prison as well. With him on hand and his team working from the outside the odds of escaping increase. But a few items may prevent that from happening. Now, beaten nearly every day and weakened by their time in captivity, the team must work together once again if they are to survive.
Let me say up front there are few surprises in this film. Even one of the major turning points I saw coming down the line 10 minutes into the movie and most others will as well. But that doesn’t matter. This is a popcorn film, one of those movies you pop into the machine just to have some mind numbing action flick to watch without concern about plot holes or acting ability.
Speaking of acting for the most part the casts here does an admirable job. But character development is at a minimum here with the exception of Shu and that’s not incredibly deep. Instead the movie focuses on action and offers plenty of it between the hand to hand combat sequences and gunplay near the end. But both Stallone and Bautista are wasted here. For being the box office draws of the film Stallone’s part is more limited than one would expect and Bautista, perhaps known more for being a WWE star and as part of the Guardians of the Galaxy, feels rather one note here. He can and has done better.
In the end the movie is entertaining enough for a night’s rental but my guess is only die-hard Stallone fans will be adding this movie to their collection. The combination of stars from around the globe tells me this was intended to play as well if not better in foreign markets than here in the U.S. That’s okay but it will make fans of Stallone wonder what he’s doing making movies like this when he can do better. My guess is a paycheck or that he thought the end result would be better. For me it left me longing for past films but still enjoying it just enough to recommend it for action fans not looking for the best there is out there.
Click here to order.
Click here to order.