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Matthew King
Matthew King

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With Fistful of Dyanmite (a.k.a. 'Duck, You Sucker', a.k.a. 'Once Upon a Time in the Revolution', the second part of a 'trilogy'), legendary Sergio Leone puts together something experimental, even more so than the other films in his catalog. Here he now deals with war, but he still has the crime elements of his 'dollars' films; it somehow makes a very clear cut balance between bits of comedy within the tragedy worked in the story; it isn't very brutal, but it is graphic in the genre sense of the time. It's also one of his best films, if you happen to see it within its full running time (like most of Leone's films, this suffered drastic cuts in American versions, reducing critical character points and other Leone surprises).A Leone film, however, can only be as strong as the leads pushing it up, as in the dozens and dozens of westerns and other films that inspired Leone. Here he uses two character actors (for the most part of their careers), but indeed very good and astute ones at playing their parts. Rod Steiger, who has been in classic films like On the Waterfront and The Pawnbroker, here is slightly like a maturer version of Tuco from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: he's still a bandit, with pillaging and beating and raping his way across the countryside, but he's also got a family to look after, who within his anti-hero heart are the most important things to him. Steiger's Juan is usually either surprised, quietly delighted, or agitated off to certain degrees. He plays this for all it's worth, but he also finds the best notes in the moments when he brings out laughs, and in the more sorrowful moments later on in the film.There's also James Coburn, veteran of many, many films, given one of the great themes of any character in a Leone film by composer Ennio Morricone (there's some sort of instrument or distortion of one in his theme that calls for complete, unusual attention on the viewer). Coburn's Sean (err, John, depending) is a character with some ghosts, perhaps, in his past, and who unlike Juan is more interested in 'other' interests. Although Juan tries not to notice it until the sequence at Mesa Verde (which I won't reveal), Sean has been through a revolution in Ireland, and understand more or less what happens with it. He brings in Juan, after a rather strange yet hilarious encounter, into his web of revolutionary fighters, which doesn't go over to well with him at first. As their story unravels, Coburn still plays it like a pro, being the straight character to Steiger's very theatrical-like performance. He doesn't quite have the mystery an Eastwood or Bronson had in the other Leone films, but he does carry a certain quality about him that puts him in a needed place in the Leone cannon.Speaking of which, one must not over-look how complex a film like this is in some ways. Leone was not originally the director (it went through the hands of Peter Bogdanovich and Sam Peckinpah before coming to him, coincidentally the opening scene with Juan is a cool homage to the Wild Bunch opening). Yet somehow he puts his stamp, and wonderful mark, on Fistful of Dynamite. This time more history is worked into the film- unlike the civil war acting like a harsh backdrop to the more 'fun' elements of the adventure in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the war in this film affects the main character, and adds a serious tone to an otherwise standard genre picture. The Steiger character, along with the audience, gets a look at a massive amount of death, or rather the images of the dead: a tower filled with soldiers blown at night, the powerful pans and camera moves across the bodies, real combat, and the suggestions of what goes into the revolution. But its not just the violence of battles that get into the film, its also the personal attitudes during the revolution- the bourgeois vs the peasants (one of Leone's masterstrokes at close-ups in montage is displayed when Juan is on the train with the near monstrous American wealthy early in the film). Leone manages to work in various and cinematic explosions, in-depth or testing close-ups, and sweeping long shots of soldiers, landscapes, and struggle.Coming back to Ennio Morricone's score- this time, Morricone experiments with some styles of his talents. As when Leone uses a funny, almost cartoon-like, image above Sean from Juans' eyes of a 'Banco' sign (akin the a 'dollar' sign above cartoon characters), Morricone adds a church organ and choir to go along with it. There are also the uses of themes throughout the film, as in Leone's other films, that act like striking, beautiful calling cards. The opening theme is pounding; Sean's flashbacks are given the sumptuous qualities that go with the best (and worst) nostalgia; the scenes with action and suspense, though almost a little standard, still work far better than many standard score of today. Fistful of Dynamite is entertainment on an epic scale, with a broader and somewhat deeper sub-text, and it comes out with flying colors. Some may not take to it; it could be argued that Steiger, much like Eli Wallach, isn't very convincing as a Mexican bandit, or that the shifting in tones is a little much, even conventional in a weird sense. But it's hard to argue the sense of control that Leone has over his environment in the film, the assuredness of style, and that at the least the parts are greater than the whole. For me, it's a film I've seen twice in one week (once to soak in and get more of the enjoyment, the second time to get even more out of it, and to notice the visual details), and I hope it gets better the next time around.




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Sergio Leone's unfairly maligned fifth western is at least equal to his earlier films, if not scaling the epic heights of his masterpieces. We're in familiar territory with the story of two men, the opposites of each other, who team up as unlikely partners and end up getting involved in something far beyond their reaches. Unlike his earlier Eastwood westerns, Leone's film is far more reaching and personal than before, and with a darker edge. It's also his most political film, as it charts the struggle between the army and the revolutionaries. Once again it's perfectly made, with a great evocative Morricone soundtrack, and uses extreme close-ups and the like for style. Don't go expecting any stand-offs, however, as this is more of a war film, and has great scenes like Steiger and Coburn taking on the brunt of the German army alone in the mountains.Rod Steiger takes the lead role of the Mexican bandit, playing much the same part as Eli Wallach would have done. He really seems to be putting his all into the role and having a good time, and his spirit rubs off. All this and he has an accent similar to the one Pacino uses in SCARFACE. James Coburn is his complete opposite, an Irish (!) IRA member who is an expert in all things explosive. The two make a real fiery partnership and a supported by a strong Italian cast, once again. Cult favourite David Warbeck pops up in a small but key role in flashbacks as a friend of Coburn's.The action scenes are violent without being excessive (like in a Peckinpah film), taking things one step further from Leone's previous work. Times have changed so the film has a harder, rougher edge, almost nihilistic in feel. There are some impressive explosions to note as well, and exploitation fans will be surprised to see Antonio Margheriti (one of my favourite Italian directors) listed in the crew as the special effects man. A miniature train crash is unmistakably his work. While being a technically-proficient piece of work, A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE also has important questions to ask the audience which elevates it above similar B-movie fare, and flies by at a mere two-and-a-half hour running time.


Spoof on the blaxplotation films of the 1970s. Starts right off in "Any Ghetto U.S.A." where a young black man has died of O.G. (overabundance of gold chains). His brother Jack (Keenan Ivory Wayans) comes home from the army to find the people who "hooked his brother on gold". With a couple of older black men (all from the 1970s films) they decide to clean up the town.Now it sounds pretty stupid--but it actually works. There are some real bad jokes but the good ones outnumber those vastly. The whole cast plays it straight with plenty of small roles or cameos from veteran 1970s actors. You don't have to know the old films to enjoy this but it does help a few times. It's really good to see Antonio Fargas back in a film making fun of his 1970s image. John Vernoon (Dean Wormer from "Animal House") is also lots of fun as Mr. Big. And Ja'net DuBois is hysterical as Jack's overprotective mother. And--since this is directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans--most of his family shows up in small roles. Sure it's silly and stupid but also very funny. Turn off your brain and enjoy! By far the best thing the Wayans have ever done.


I'm a big fan of fan of film noir, and this film by Otto Preminger easily stands as one of the best that I've seen! Preminger has reunited two of his stars from the hit 'Laura' - Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, for an entirely different sort of crime film. Laura was based around love, and this film is based around hate; as we watch police detective Mark Dixon, a copper already suffering scrutiny from his superiors for his heavy handed tactics, accidentally kill a suspect and try to pin the murder on a known criminal; a man by the name of Tommy Scalisi. The plot is brilliantly worked, and Preminger excellently balances several plot points; but it all comes back down to the main moral implication surrounding our main character. The fact that the film is set in the criminal underground means that the plot is given an excellent base to work from, and director Otto Preminger expertly captures the sleazier side of life by showing the main characters gambling, beating one another (and their women), shooting and more - and this also helps to offset the film from the earlier 'Laura', which was very much set in upper class society.The role of Mark Dixon gives Dana Andrews one of the most interesting parts of his career. Here, we have a character that is difficult to like as he's so cold - but the fact that we can understand his motives ensures that he's easy to sympathise with, and that allows the audience the ability to plug into his plight. The character development is well timed, and as we've follows this character and his motivations throughout the film; everything makes sense by the end. His co-star is the beautiful Gene Tierney, who isn't given as much to do in this film as she was in Laura; a film that made Tierney its linchpin. She does well with what she's got, however, and the lead duo's chemistry is excellent and Tierney helps to complete every scene she's in. I can't say that this is a better film than the earlier Laura; that's a hard act to follow, but this film certainly fits into the film noir formula better than Preminger's earlier film. The film also makes a good comparison piece for Laura; as just about everything in this film is opposite to the 1944 movie, yet it's all strangely familiar. Highly recommended to all! 041b061a72


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