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Super Snooper (1980) April 26, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Comedy, Action, 1980s films, Non-Asian , add a comment

Director: Sergio Corbucci  Starring: Terence Hill; Ernest Borgnine; Marc Lawrence  Territory: Italy; USA; Spain

Conscientious cop Dave Speed (Terence Hill) accidentally gets irradiated with Red Plutonium in a government experiment while serving a routine traffic violation ticket.  The accident bestows super powers on him, much to the exasperation of his long-suffering partner Sergeant Dunlop (Ernest Borgnine).  The only problem is, Speed’s powers abruptly disappear whenever he sees the colour red…

This is one of those films that seriously wowed me as a kid.  So much so, in fact, that out of, say Jaws, Star Wars and Super Snooper, I would have had a tough time choosing my favourite.  I think the fact that the movie was not readily available on home video added to the mystique a lot.

Seeing it as an adult is a different experience altogether, and of course time has a harsh way of treating comedy sometimes.  Directed by Sergio Corbucci of Django and The Great Silence fame (two films I really must get around to re-watching and writing about at some point), there is a feeling that this movie was banged out quickly.  Certainly it had no budget to speak of.  But cheap quickies are often what this blog’s about, and Super Snooper remains a fun film if you have low expectations and don’t examine the cracks too carefully.

Super Snooper

Yes, there are some pretty glaring anomalies.  It strikes me as really odd, for instance, that after Speed’s accident, Dunlop is busted down to traffic cop and out directing cars immediately following his friend’s apparent death.  But I’ve come to accept such oddities as being in line with European sensibilities and just kind of go with the flow these days.

There are a few nods to Hill’s westerns with Speed’s love of cowboy hats and beans, and the knockabout humour is all present and accounted for.  The tale of Speed’s downfall is told in flashback (a device I have a particular weakness for, as regular readers will attest to) and you can’t help rooting for the guy.  As a side note, I happen to think this film had quite an influence on my views on the death penalty – how can such a nice guy as Dave Speed be on Death Row?  So file Super Snooper alongside The Green Mile in your video collection!

Super Snooper is only sporadically funny these days, but there’s still at least one belly-laugh in there and the hokey effects just add to the charm.  To say nothing of the catchy and damn impossible to forget disco theme tune.  Nostalia is what it used to be.  Almost.

My Name is Nobody (1973) April 21, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Comedy, Action, 1970s films, Non-Asian , 3 comments

Director: Tonino Valerii; Sergio Leone (uncreditted)  Starring: Terence Hill; Henry Fonda  Territory: Italy; France; Germany

“Sometimes you run smack into your destiny on the very road you take to get away from it.”  So says young gun Nobody (Terence Hill) to aging gunfighter Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda) in the Leone produced My Name Is Nobody.  Leone also had a hand in directing this film about saying farewell to the old West, and his stamp is to be seen all over the movie.

This was the last western that Fonda appeared in, and was shot at the tail end of the Italian Western craze.  It’s therefore ironic (or incredibly prescient) that the film is about bowing out and riding off into the sunset in style.  When Beauregard first meets Nobody, he thinks he’s another young hotshot come to take him down, when in fact he is a besotted fan.  Nobody tries to persuade the gunslinger to go out with a bang by taking down the Wild Bunch (no, not that Wild Bunch), a group of a hundred-and-fifty bloodthirsty cutthroats who use the local goldmine to smelt their stolen gold.  Nobody doesn’t take no for an answer despite Beauregard’s disdain and apathy for his plan, and takes to dogging him with a mix of praise and provocation.

My Name is NobodyLeone’s involvement is evident right from the start of the film - a tense, long scene is drawn out involving little dialogue and lots of close ups of craggy-faced outlaws before a brief (blink and you miss it – I did) and brutal gunfight.  It’s hard to see at this point how the film ended up as a comedy, and that is perhaps the biggest criticism you can make of the film – the tone is quite inconsistent.  Obviously, Hill’s now established brand of physical humour and geniality was a box-office draw, but he sometimes feels out of place in the film, particularly as he is the titular character.  While inconsistency of tone is a mild complaint, the one thing I really objected to was the inclusion of a “slap fight” virtually identical to the one in Trinity Is Still My Name.  It smacks of laziness and unoriginality to lift a scene almost directly from a previous film, especially one that was such a hit.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to enjoy in My Name Is Nobody, especially if you like Italian Westerns.  Ennio Morricone, a man synonymous with Leone and the Italian Western, provides the score, and of course provides a fantastically memorable set of compositions.  The theme to the Wild Bunch (no, still not that Wild Bunch) is a little goofy, and includes a synthesized snippet of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.  It suffers the distinction of being catchy, memorable and annoying all at the same time, and was stolen wholesale for this Hong Kong film (mystery solved, if you skip to the last paragraph of that review).  Nobody’s theme, though, is simply brilliant.

My Name is Nobody seems to have been crafted with genuine love, and from the first few frames feels like a last hurrah for the genre.  While some might have preferred a less comic send off, the film has a valid message to deliver.  And humour has a way of tempering such devices as sentimentality, and I’ve seldom seen an action comedy film that handles emotion as well as this. 

Trinity Is Still My Name (1971) April 14, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Comedy, 1970s films, Non-Asian , 3 comments

Director: Enzo Barboni (as EB Clucher)  Starring: Terence Hill; Bud Spencer  Territory: Italy

The unlikely heroes of Trinity (Hill) and Bambino (Spencer) return in this fun but light follow-up to the immensely successful They Call Me Trinity.  There’s hardly any plot to speak of, but the film rips along at a brisk pace nonetheless.

Trinity Is Still My Name’s emphasis is very much on comedy, and some of it is still pretty darn funny.  The opening scene, where Bambino gets one over on four not terribly bright outlaws sets the tone perfectly.  In a set-up reminiscent of Blake Edwards at his best, Trinity then goes one better on the same outlaws – and then their parents go one better still!

Trinity is Still My Name

There are a few running gags as the duo hopelessly try their hands at becoming outlaws, and again, the humour has travelled surprisingly well.  But after about half an hour, a nagging feeling of there being something missing creeps in.  And after a while, I realised that there still hadn’t been any indication of plot or direction.  Instead, Trinity Is Still My Name moves from one comic sketch to another with hardly a moment to draw breath.  Eventually, there is a small attempt to add a story concerning some corrupt monks, but by then it feels tacked on and somewhat out of place.

Which is all a bit of a shame, because in many ways Trinity Is Still My Name is superior to its predecessor.  I don’t think anyone can say it’s not as funny as They Call Me Trinity, but as a standalone piece of work, it doesn’t stand up as well.

Red Cliff (2008/2009) April 12, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, War, Wuxia, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: John Woo  Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro; Tony Leung Chiu-Wai; Zhang Fengyi; Vicki Zhao  Territory: China

red-cliff.jpgJohn Woo’s return to Chinese language film after an age of Hollywood films of diminishing returns was awaited with considerable excitement.  A favourite director of mine, I watched his Hollywood debut Hard Target with great interest – and then decided I wouldn’t bother with any of his others.  Having said that, there was never going to be any fear of me missing out on this sprawling epic split over two parts and promising battle scenes on an awesome scale.

The story of Red Cliff is simple and based on an actual event: in 208AD, warmonger Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) manipulates a child Emperor to invade two territories in the south, under the spurious excuse that they are going to renegade against the state.  The leaders of the two accused territories, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, form an alliance and attempt to battle off Cao Cao and his army, despite a lack of supplies and being severely outnumbered.  Liu Bei’s Chief Strategist Zhu-Ge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Sun Quan’s General Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) step up to organise the resistance against Cao Cao. 

Released to great acclaim and phenomenal box office returns, I was nevertheless unmoved by Red Cliff.  I never fully engaged with the characters, who I found universally weak.  The majority of the dialogue is about battle formations, tactics and politics – which I felt was quite cold and showed very little of the emotional or human element of war. 

The much lauded battle scenes are indeed impressive, with some excellent CGI to add great scale and invoke a genuine feeling of awe.  However, the battle scenes go on too long.  And it’s really as simple as that – you really can have too much of a good thing.  Furthermore, John Woo’s style and his habit of overusing the zoom on close-quarter skirmishes feels a tad out of place in a third century setting. 

If it feels like the first part of Red Cliff has an over reliance on these epic battles, it comes as a small relief when things calm down a little in Red Cliff: Part Two.  John Woo has never been known as creating great female characters, and that is still the case for a large part here, but Vicki Zhao’s Sun Shangxiang is a small exception.  She takes it on herself to spy in Cao Cao’s camp, learn the strength of the enemy, and report back and I did quite enjoy this break in all the solemn political wrangling.

But as well as finding the characters uninteresting and the battlefield scenes too long, I could also tell where it was all going far too often.  And even the conclusion of Sun Shangxiang’s sub-story pays off in an extremely predictable and contrived way.  The much-anticipated naval battle, teasingly hinted at in the first film, is saved as a climax and is just as impressive and grand as you could want – and yes, it too overstays its welcome and gets dull.

I’ve yet to hear anyone say a bad word about Red Cliff, so it comes as a great surprise to me that I didn’t like it very much.  I mean, it’s almost heresy criticising John Woo, who, let’s face it, is an almost God-like figure in Hong Kong cinema.  But then I didn’t like The Killer either. 

They Call Me Trinity (1970) April 6, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Comedy, Action, 1970s films, Non-Asian , 2 comments

Director: Enzo Barboni (as EB Clucher)  Starring: Terence Hill; Bud Spencer; Farley Granger  Territory: Italy

When I first saw the movies of Jackie Chan, which introduced me to Hong Kong cinema, I was struck by an unshakeable sense of familiarity about them.  It took me a while for the penny to drop, but eventually I realised that they bore more than a casual resemblance to the films of Terence Hill.

Terence Hill was pretty darn massive in my little 10-year-old world, and watching him on the big screen was a joy that was seldom bettered.  Seeing as how our family didn’t go to the cinema very often, I’m surprised how many I’d seen before the home video systems became popular.  Ironically, one film I don’t believe I ever saw was They Call Me Trinity, perhaps his most popular and enduring film.

They Call Me Trinity

Telling the tale of a horse thief and his brother (Spencer and Hill, respectively) posing as lawmen in a small frontier town, the duo abandon their dishonest intentions and intervene against an unscrupulous landowner intent in driving away a settlement of peaceful Mormons.  The heroes, despite being ne’er-do-wells, are just and moral, the victims are humble and noble, and the villains are very bad indeed.  Throw in some slapstick from Hill and some grumpy brute-force shenanigans from Spencer, and you have a template that if Jackie Chan had done a scene-for-scene remake in the early eighties with himself in the title role and Sammo Hung in the role of Bambino, no one would have batted an eyelid.

I never could understand as a ten-year-old why people’s lips didn’t match up to the dialogue in Terence Hill movies – the concept of foreign language movies was completely alien to me then (and besides, Terence Hill is American, right?  Right??), but most of the dialogue in They Call Me Trinity seems to have been spoken in English, and where it wasn’t, there was one hell of a good dub job done.

It’s all good fun, and bears repeated viewing surprisingly well.  Some of the humour hasn’t aged too well (another thing Hill’s films have in common with Chan’s) but there’s still enough to raise a smile at the very least.  And if you’re in the right frame of mind, there will be a few chuckles to be had as well.  But, again like the films of Jackie Chan, the fun comes from the good-natured struggle of good versus evil (with a lower case “e”) and the physical humour on display.  Stuff like this will always be worth watching.

Red Beard (1965) April 2, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Drama, 1960s films, Jidaigeki , 2 comments

Director: Akira Kurosawa  Starring: Toshirô Mifune; Yûzô Kayama; Terumi Niki; Tsutomu Yamazaki  Territory: Japan

A young, newly qualified doctor grudgingly takes a job at a clinic for the poor.  But the young Yasumoto (Yûzô Kayama) is arrogant and ambitious, and considers himself to be above his calling.  However, under the guidance of the clinic’s head physician, Kyojô Niide (Toshirô Mifune), the young doctor begins to learn compassion and humility.

Anyone doubting Kurosawa’s genius behind the camera only has to watch the first half of this epic tale of two doctors and their various patients.  The director’s visual style is not hampered one bit by static location (besides, one sub-story told through a series of flashbacks allows him free reign to show his stuff on a larger scale) and one shot had me scratching my head wondering how he’d done it (I’m talking about the “well shot”, and I believe the answer, if you are interested, is here).

Red Beard

In his final role for Kurosawa, Mifune gives a fantastic performance as the humble, compassionate and patient doctor who mentors the new recruit in his spartan clinic.  When Yasumoto’s bad behaviour, fuelled by his desire to be a Shogunate doctor, becomes apparent at an evening meal, Niide (nicknamed Red Beard by fellow doctors) keeps calm and says: “Even bad food tastes good if chewed well.  Same with work.”  I have yet to see all of the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations, but I have to say that this is the strongest performance I’ve seen from the actor.  I’ve no idea if the scene is taken from the book by Shugoro Yamamoto, or whether it was an inclusion by Kurosawa, but Mifune also gets to show off his ability at brawling when he beats up (and then bandages up) an angry mob.  Mifune hardly breaks a sweat while injuring his foes, in a scene reminiscent of an unarmed Yojimbo.

Any film lasting nearly three hours (slightly longer including the intermission) needs a certain spark to compel the viewer to watch, and Red Beard indeed flies by.  However, in the final third, the film’s episodic nature finally becomes apparent and for me, this stops the movie from becoming one of the greatest films I’ve ever watched.  But don’t let that put you off – Red Beard is still one hell of a great film, and further proof that Kurosawa and Mifune were one of the greatest director/actor combinations of all time.

Public to gear up for yet another Home Cinema format war April 1, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Articles, Humour , 3 comments

Just when you thought your home cinema system was finally complete with the latest HD equipment comes the bombshell that production is to be ceased on Blu-ray players later in the year – and viewers will be faced with yet another format war for its successor.

It was revealed earlier this week that Blu-ray machine sales have been vastly inflated, and that to date only 5,732 units have sold worldwide.  And despite a wide range of titles being available on the format, Sony admitted this morning that the same people are just buying lots and lots of copies of the same film in an attempt to prolong the life of the system and bolster sales figures.

Launched in 2006, Blu-ray fought off competition in the form of Toshiba’s HD DVD format, and it was thought that when the last major studio, Warner Bros, decided not to continue producing HD DVDs from May 2008 the format war was all but over. 

One of the more compact nuVHS machinesHowever, in a supremely ironic twist, the war over the next next next generation of home entertainment will be between two almost familiar brands.  JVC have been toiling away behind closed doors for almost three months on a tape-based machine called nuVHS.  Unlike standard VHS, nuVHS will produce images at a resolution almost double that of the 352×576 standard of the original format. 


The Apple iBetamax 2.0And its old rival is back in a revamped form.  Sony sold the Betamax brand in 2002 to Apple Inc for a three-figure sum, but the new “iBetamax” is set to give nuVHS a run for its money.  With a focus on interactivity, the new format will also boast slightly enhanced resolution and will probably be compatible with some other Apple products such as the iPhone, iPod and the new iCarabiner.

But the real shock is that movies in both formats will be able to be presented in True 4D™.  An industry insider explains: “This technology is so new we haven’t even been able to hype it yet.  Basically, it means that along with the standard boring three dimensions films are being shown in these days at the cinema, you will also be able to experience time by watching the film.  The movie will appear to last exactly as long as the timelines depicted in the movie – so if a film is set over a week, you will perceive the film to last a week”.

However, critics warn that the technology of True 4D™has not been perfected.  Initial tests have found that viewers can become disorientated, confused and traumatised following a showing in True 4D™, and after a presentation of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the concept was almost dropped altogether.  But studio experts are insisting that True 4D™ is the next big thing in the home cinema experience, and soon we’ll all want to settle down for a truly epic viewing experience.

With both new formats just hours away from release, it’s impossible to say just who has the upper hand in the new war.  The only thing we know for sure is that Blu-ray was just a temporary stop-gap on the way to home cinema heaven – the format will officially only be supported until the first of April next year, after which no new titles will be released.  But there’s one silver lining for film hoarders out there: both nuVHS and iBetamax will be backwards compatible with their predecessors, so you’ll be able to watch all of your old tapes once again – albeit only in their low resolution, two dimensional glory.  That’s if you haven’t already thrown them all out…

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