Trailer: Five Fingers For Marseilles


 

The Western is alive and kicking. Having been adapted to Southern Europe in the 1960s with a flood gate of Italian and Spanish ‘Spaghetti’ entries, and more recently to northern Europe with 2005’s Belgian Vincent Cassel vehicle, Blueberry, and also this year, Let The Corpses Tan. Australia and New Zealand (The Proposition, Red Hill and Slow West) have gotten into the mix in the 21st century, as has Asia (South Korea’s Kimchi-Western The Good The Bad And The Weird, and the recent Japanese remake of Oscar winner, Unforgiven). Now it is time for the classic American genre to drop its saddle bags in Africa.

Near the colonial town of Marseilles in the rugged Eastern Cape of South Africa, a group of rebellious friends dubbed the Five Fingers use well-placed eggs and slingshots to drive off the oppressive police force. But when the cops seize quick-tempered Tau’s childhood love, Lerato, he goes from throwing eggs to shooting bullets. Scared of capture or worse, Tau flees, returning 20 years later to a town, and friends, transformed by the violence caused that day. With the crooked cops now replaced by a caustic gang, Tau must marshal what remains of the Fingers to once again defend their home.

South Africa’s Five Fingers for Marseilles is burning up with style and intensity. If I were attending TIFF this year (sadly, I am not) it would be high on my list of things to see. The trailer is below.

 

Blu-Ray Review: Terror in a Texas Town

Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Screenplay: Dalton Trumbo (credited as Ben Perry)
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Nedrick Young, Sebastian Cabot, Carol Kelly, Victor Millan
Country: USA
Running Time: 81 min
Year: 1958
BBFC Certificate: PG


Terror in a Texas Town is a film I hadn’t heard of before to be honest, but whenever a western or film noir crops up on Blu-Ray or DVD I feel obliged to review it as I’m a fan of both genres. Well the press release for this described it as a cross between both genres, so I was even more interested than usual.

Terror in a Texas Town is a black and white B-movie western from the late 50s which sees a greedy hotel owner, McNeil (Sebastian Cabot), use brute force to drive local farmers off his land after pay-offs don’t work. Using the cruel gunman Johnny Crale (Nedrick Young) to do the legwork, McNeil’s latest target is the Swedish immigrant Sven Hansen (Ted Stanhope). Crale kills Sven, as he won’t budge, and it looks like McNeil has got what he wants, as he’s paid off the sheriff so the death won’t be investigated and Sven’s Mexican friend Mirada (Victor Millan), who witnessed the murder, is too scared to talk anyway. However, soon after, Sven’s son George (Sterling Hayden) arrives in town and claims the farm is now rightfully his, causing problems for McNeil. On top of this, he’s determined to find out who killed his father and bring him to justice. McNeil of course asks Crale to sort it out – initially without force, but after a while it looks like there’s no other way. Hansen struggles on, but he can’t get justice without the help of Mirada and the rest of the town, who are too frightened to stand up to the two tyrants, McNeil and Crale.

As that last sentence suggests, Terror in a Texas Town bears more than a passing resemblance to High Noon, which was released a few years prior to this. Like that film, Terror in a Texas Town plays out as an allegory of the anti-Communist witch hunts in America during the 50s, which is unsurprising given the writer was the famously blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (writing here under the pseudonym Ben Perry). The film’s hero and the man who has the information to bring down the villains are outsiders (George is Swedish and Mirada is Mexican), but they have to lose their fear to face them and need the support of the general public, who are also afraid to put a stop to it. This message becomes particularly clear in the final act and adds some weight to proceedings, after most of the rest of the film plays out like a typical revenge western. I’m not quite sure I see the noir aspects, although the film has a tough edge many 50s westerns don’t share.

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Blu-Ray Review: One-Eyed Jacks

Director: Marlon Brando
Screenplay: Guy Trosper, Calder Willingham
Based on a Novel by: Charles Neider
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Larry Duran
Country: USA
Running Time: 141 min
Year: 1961
BBFC Certificate: PG


The 1961 western One-Eyed Jacks is a curiosity for numerous reasons. Most notably perhaps is the fact it was the one and only time the great Marlon Brando worked behind the camera as director. This wasn’t always set to be the case though. The production began life as a script written by Sam Peckinpah, based on the 1956 Charles Neider novel, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (which Peckinpah would later turn into his own film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Brando’s production company, Pennebaker Productions, got hold of it and Brando wanted the then relatively young Stanley Kubrick to direct it. Kubrick agreed, but insisted on a new script by Calder Willingham. The three of them worked on it at Brando’s home, but various clashes caused Willingham to leave the project (to be replaced by Guy Trosper), followed by Kubrick. With filming already set for a month’s time, Brando stepped in and Paramount agreed. Some believe this was always Brando’s plan, but by all accounts the job was too much for him as the film spiralled rapidly over budget (it reportedly ended up costing $6 million dollars, from an original budget of $1.8 million) and he lost interest during post-production, leaving the studio to edit his 4 hour 42 minute cut down to a more manageable length.

As with a lot of troubled, lengthy and expensive productions, the film was released to mixed reviews and disappointing box office returns. In more recent years though, some critics have called for a reappraisal of the film and last year a new 4K digital restoration was completed by Universal Pictures in partnership with The Film Foundation, in consultation with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. It’s this polished version that now reaches our homes with Arrow Academy’s new dual format release. Being a western fan, I donned my cowboy hat and took this curious pony for a ride.

One-Eyed Jacks opens with Rio (Brando), Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) and their accomplices robbing a bank in Mexico. Whilst stuck in a hilltop siege with the Mexican law, Rio sends Dad off to get new horses to aid their escape. He instead chooses to run off with the loot, leaving Rio to get caught and rot in a Mexican jail. He escapes 5 years later and seems hell bent on exacting revenge for what happened. Rio finds his chance when he happens upon Bob Amory (Ben Johnson), who is planning a bank job in Monterey, California, where Dad is currently sheriff. Rio joins Bob’s gang and soon comes face to face with Dad, but rather than shoot him down straight away, he plots a slower route of cruel vengeance. Part of this involves or is possibly waylaid by Rio forming a relationship with Dad’s step-daughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer). Further complications ensue as the audience wonders just what Rio plans to do to his former partner in crime.

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Blu-Ray Review: Tampopo – Criterion Collection

Director: Jûzô Itami
Screenplay: Jûzô Itami
Starring: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ken Watanabe, Kôji Yakusho, Rikiya Yasuoka
Country: Japan
Running Time: 114 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: 15


I didn’t quite know what to expect going into Tampopo. I’d heard mention of it, always in a positive sense, so I was keen to see it. I was aware that it was a film about food too, but other than that I hadn’t a clue what I was in for when I put this fantastic new Criterion Blu-Ray into my player. I’m glad I didn’t know much either as this glorious offbeat film blew me away.

The core of the film sees truckers Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) head into a ramen shop late one rainy night. They are unimpressed by the ramen, but Goro is fascinated by the attractive and determined owner Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). So when she asks Goro to help improve her cooking and bring new life to the shop she inherited from her dead husband, he accepts. He can’t do it alone though, as he’s no expert, so enlists the help of Gun and several other quirky characters he knows and meets in the city.

Alongside this story, the film oftens heads off on various tangents as the camera follows characters walking past our main protagonists. These lead to short scenes/skits surrounding people’s love of food, how it plays a part in their lives and unusual aspects of food etiquette. These are generally led by fresh new characters, but the mysterious Man in the White Suit (Kôji Yakusho), a gangster type with a sexual fetish for food, reappears several times.

In fact, this character opens the film. He and his food-sex loving mistress (Fukumi Kuroda) enter a cinema, followed by an entourage who lay out a gourmet feast. The man then talks directly to us, the audience, about eating during a film and his annoyance at those making too much noise, before waxing lyrical about the ‘short film’ you see in your dying moments.

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Blu-Ray Review: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay: Sam Peckinpah, Gordon T. Dawson
Based on a Story by: Sam Peckinpah, Frank Kowalski
Starring: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández, Kris Kristofferson
Country: USA, Mexico
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1974
BBFC Certificate: 18


I‘ve long been a huge fan of The Wild Bunch, but I’ve not seen much of the director Sam Peckinpah’s other work. I can remember watching Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid when I was a youngster, but I didn’t get into it and the mixed reviews some of his other work received put me off a bit. I’ve matured since then though, so I feel I might appreciate Pat Garrett more these days and I’m keen to venture further into Peckinpah’s filmography after a recent rewatch of The Wild Bunch reminded how fantastic it is. Arrow Video have helped me along by releasing his follow up to Pat Garrett, the unambiguously titled Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

The film opens powerfully with a pregnant Mexican teenager, initially relaxing by a river, being taken in shackles to see her crime lord father (El Jefe – played by Emilio Fernández), who demands to find out who the father of her baby is. She refuses to say, until she has her arm or finger broken by some thugs and she cries out “Alfredo Garcia”. This leads to El Jefe making the titular order to his gang of hired heavies and crooks. Two cold-hearted, business-like men on the hunt for Garcia end up in a small bar where Bennie (Warren Oates) plays the piano. He’s heard of the man and is willing to find him for the right price. His girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega) had been sleeping around with Garcia and claims that he recently died in a car accident. Undeterred, Bennie takes Elita on a road trip to find Garcia’s body, chop off the head and deliver it to El Jeffe’s goons. This poor decision begins a domino effect though and Bennie sinks lower than it seems one man is able to descend.

It’s a grim and grimy film. Most of the characters are pretty reprehensible, even Elita has her flaws. There’s plenty of nudity, violence and general degradation as Bennie makes his bloody road trip. It certainly shares the grit and nihilism of The Wild Bunch as well as the strange sense of melancholy. The film supposedly plays like a metaphor for Peckinpah’s life and work. Like his endless problems with studio heads interfering with his films and never getting final cut on them (this was the first and possibly only time he got it), Bring Me the Head sees its hero get constantly shat on, particularly by those in positions of authority. Bennie also tries to drown his sorrows in drink with little success and loves his girlfriend but treats her poorly. You get the sense this is a surprisingly personal film then, despite the seemingly outlandish premise, so it is quite a bleak and angry affair.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Man From Laramie

Director: Anthony Mann
Screenplay: Philip Yordan, Frank Burt
Based on a Story by: Thomas T. Flynn
Starring: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp
Country: USA
Running Time: 104 min
Year: 1955
BBFC Certificate: U


I‘ve talked before about my love of the western genre and how my adoration only truly kicked into gear a few years ago. One of the titles that spurred on (pun intended) this more recent fandom was Winchester ’73. The first collaboration between director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart, it used a clever narrative device (the ownership of the titular gun) and was lean, thoroughly engrossing and exciting. Knowing that the pair made four more films together following this, all of which are highly regarded, I’ve been keen to work my way through them. Hearing 1955’s The Man From Laramie often called the best of these, it was at the top of my list. Somehow it’s taken me a couple of years to actually get around to it though and I’m glad I waited, because it allowed my first viewing to be Eureka’s new Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray release of the film.

The Man From Laramie sees Will Lockhart (Stewart) arrive in Coronado with his wagon freight of goods. After dropping them off at the local store he heads with his crew to stock up on salt to take something on to the next town. However, he falls foul of Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol) who owns the salt flats and punishes Will overly severely, humiliating him and destroying his livelihood. The unhinged Dave is stopped from going even further by his surrogate brother Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy), but that’s not enough to prevent Will from seeking revenge. As the film moves on, we realise there’s more to Will’s presence in town than delivering freight though and his desire for revenge stretches further than saving face against Dave. A group of cavalrymen, including his brother, had been murdered by the Apache, who used repeating rifles clearly sold to them by ‘white men’. So against the opinion of those around him, Will sticks around Coronado to seek his own brand of justice against those responsible.

Alongside this, the film examines the relationship between Dave, Vic and Dave’s father Alec (Donald Crisp) who owns most of Coronado and the land surrounding it. The ageing Alec is priming his son to take over the ranch, but he isn’t ready yet, so Vic currently runs things. Vic feels like he deserves to become the owner though as he’s put more work in, but Dave is Alec’s blood. So their relationship is very strained and Will’s interference helps fuel further disagreement between the feuding men.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Hired Hand

Director: Peter Fonda
Screenplay: Alan Sharp
Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom
Country: USA
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 15


Any regular readers will know I’m a big western fan and may or may not know I’ve got a soft spot for 70’s American cinema too. So when I was asked if I’d like to review Peter Fonda’s 1971 western The Hired Hand I didn’t have to think twice, even though I’d never heard of the film before being handed the press release.

In the film, Harry (Fonda himself), his friend Arch (Warren Oates) and a young man are cowboys roaming from town to town. Upon reaching a dead end town, his associates decide to move on to the California coast, but Harry, fed up of the nomad life, decides to head back home to his estranged wife and child. Arch, who’s been travelling with Harry for several years, at first decides to let his friend go alone, but when their young companion is ‘accidentally’ killed by a man named McVey (Severn Darden), he decides to go with him. Once there, Harry’s wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) isn’t too happy to see him though. It’s been many years and she’d assumed he was dead and told their daughter as much. Harry talks her into letting him stay as a hired hand on the farm though, with a hope of reconciliation over time. When he finds out Hannah has been sleeping with the hired help whilst he’s been away though, the relationship becomes even more strained. This and the spectre of the cowboy life hanging over Harry, not helped by Arch’s presence, cause a slow and uncertain path to rebuilding his family.

As this brief synopsis shows, The Hired Hand isn’t your typical western. It’s one of the revisionist or anti-westerns that began to emerge in the 60’s. They sought to steer away from the stereotypes of the classic westerns and deconstruct the myths of the wild west. The Hired Hand shows the cowboy lifestyle to be an unglamorously dangerous, lonely and miserable existence; with poor food, little comfort at night and far too much time spent unwelcome in tiny, middle of nowhere towns. Harry’s young companion for instance, who is full of enthusiasm for his travels to the coast, comes to a grisly, unromantic end for little to no reason (though we never quite find out the truth behind it).

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Toronto After Dark Review: In A Valley Of Violence

In Sergio Leone’s classic The Good The Bad And The Ugly, one of many iconic scenes involves a gunfighter sneaking up to murder Eli Wallach’s Tuco in the bath-tub. The anonymous heavy lost his arm in a shootout with Tuco in the opening scene of the film, and seeking bloody revenge, as is par for the course in so many westerns, he stops first for a smug monologue about how it took months to learn how to shoot with his other hand. As the grimy Italian blonde savours the reversal of fortune (again, a staple of this superb film) with words, Tuco turns the table because he has his pistol in the bath-tub. He blows away the smug, would-be killer through the soap suds. To the corpse, he lectures, “When you have to shoot, SHOOT. Don’t talk.” It would not surprise me in the slightest, if it was this scene alone that inspired Ti West to make In A Valley of Violence, a film that seems a full featured examination of what amounts to a throwaway 2 minutes in a 179 minute film. More recently, HBO’s Deadwood, The Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake, and the recent pair of Quentin Tarantino gunslinger film have set out to prove that excessively loquacious, but nevertheless savoury, dialogue is a wholesome part of the Western that bears at least some consideration.

Ethan Hawke plays civil war deserter Paul, who, after a Shakespearean styled prologue with a drunken Irish priest (Burn Gorman doing what he so wonderfully does) about the nature of where he finds himself, ends up nevertheless caught up in the local toxicity of a friable futureless village-slash-movie-set called Denton. He tries to keep his head down and sip his drink at the bar as the local blowhard and sadistic bully, Gilly (Generation Kill & The Wire‘s oily-but-wide-eyed James Ransome), who also the deputy and son of the town’s sheriff, picks a fight with him for no reason other than that Paul a stranger in a place that, you guessed it, don’t like no strangers.

Pestered to the point of violence, and equally important to the point of speaking (mainly to the audience) he says that he just wants to hang out with his preternaturally cute, Lassie-like, dog and make for Mexico to forget the horrors of the war. Anyone who has ever seen a western, hell anyone who has ever seen some movies, can spot what is coming a mile away. Don’t get me wrong though, the point of the film seems less about realistically defined characters or completely reinventing the wheel (West even shoots on 35mm film, although he favours 1.85:1 over cinemascope to keep things somewhat small) and more about playing with familiar tropes of the western. This auto-critique of the genre, whose often deadpan and straight-up approach to many familiar situations is sure to be abrasive to some.

Paul being forced to deal revenge to many of the denizens of Denton is without question a given in this sort of thing. As Paul reluctantly returns to town with guns a-blazin’, it is more through dialogue than gunfire that the showdown at high noon takes place. If there is a mission statement to In A Valley of Violence it is (as stated above) when to speak and when not to speak.

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Fantasia 2016 Review: In A Valley Of Violence

In Sergio Leone’s classic The Good The Bad And The Ugly, one of many iconic scenes involves a gunfighter sneaking up to murder Eli Wallach’s Tuco in the bath-tub. The anonymous heavy lost his arm in a shootout with Tuco in the opening scene of the film, and seeking bloody revenge, as is par for the course in so many westerns, he stops first for a smug monologue about how it took months to learn how to shoot with his other hand. As the grimy Italian blonde savours the reversal of fortune (again, a staple of this superb film) with words, Tuco turns the table because he has his pistol in the bath-tub. He blows away the smug, would-be killer through the soap suds. To the corpse, he lectures, “When you have to shoot, SHOOT. Don’t talk.” It would not surprise me in the slightest, if it was this scene alone that inspired Ti West to make In A Valley of Violence, a film that seems a full featured examination of what amounts to a throwaway 2 minutes in a 179 minute film. More recently, HBO’s Deadwood, The Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake, and the recent pair of Quentin Tarantino gunslinger film have set out to prove that excessively loquacious, but nevertheless savoury, dialogue is a wholesome part of the Western that bears at least some consideration.

Ethan Hawke plays civil war deserter Paul, who, after a Shakespearean styled prologue with a drunken Irish priest (Burn Gorman doing what he so wonderfully does) about the nature of where he finds himself, ends up nevertheless caught up in the local toxicity of a friable futureless village-slash-movie-set called Denton. He tries to keep his head down and sip his drink at the bar as the local blowhard and sadistic bully, Gilly (Generation Kill & The Wire‘s oily-but-wide-eyed James Ransome), who also the deputy and son of the town’s sheriff, picks a fight with him for no reason other than that Paul a stranger in a place that, you guessed it, don’t like no strangers.

Pestered to the point of violence, and equally important to the point of speaking (mainly to the audience) he says that he just wants to hang out with his preternaturally cute, Lassie-like, dog and make for Mexico to forget the horrors of the war. Anyone who has ever seen a western, hell anyone who has ever seen some movies, can spot what is coming a mile away. Don’t get me wrong though, the point of the film seems less about realistically defined characters or completely reinventing the wheel (West even shoots on 35mm film, although he favours 1.85:1 over cinemascope to keep things somewhat small) and more about playing with familiar tropes of the western. This auto-critique of the genre, whose often deadpan and straight-up approach to many familiar situations is sure to be abrasive to some.

Paul being forced to deal revenge to many of the denizens of Denton is without question a given in this sort of thing. As Paul reluctantly returns to town with guns a-blazin’, it is more through dialogue than gunfire that the showdown at high noon takes place. If there is a mission statement to In A Valley of Violence it is (as stated above) when to speak and when not to speak.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Ox-Bow Incident

Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Lamar Trotti
Based on a Novel by: Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Starring: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Frank Conroy, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Mary Beth Hughes, Marc Lawrence
Country: USA
Running Time: 75 min
Year: 1943
BBFC Certificate: PG


Back in the early days of Hollywood, up to the end of the 30’s, the western was primarily a B-movie genre. They tended to be cheap, throwaway bits of fun with a clean cut hero saving the girl or town from outlaws or Native Americans. Films like John Ford’s Stagecoach brought them out of the shadows though and they started to be big business, even if they were still fairly straight forward in terms of plot. William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident in 1943 helped usher in a new era though. Bringing in darker themes, mirroring modern issues in this period setting, the film is thought to have been the first ‘psychological western’. It didn’t make much money at the box-office, but The Ox-Bow Incident received critical acclaim and helped pave the way for films that took ideas and storylines from film noir and transposed them to the wild west. Examples of this can be seen in Station West in 1948 and The Furies in 1950.

The Ox-Bow Incident opens with two cowboys, Gill Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan), riding into the quiet Nevada town of Bridger’s Wells. They enter the local saloon and hear from local ranchers that there have been a spate of incidents of cattle-rustling recently and the culprits are still at large. After a bit of a drunken dust-up between Carter and one of the locals, a rider rushes into town to say that one of the townsfolk has been murdered and his cattle stolen. It seems clear which way the killer/s will be travelling, so the local men (and one not-so-feminine woman named Ma) come together to form a lynch mob to chase him down and put him to their own brand of ‘justice’. The local judge (Matt Briggs) and a good man named Arthur Davies (Harry Davenport) think the matter should be handled through the courts, but the mob won’t listen. Davies joins the group to try and steer them away from anything drastic, as do Carter and Croft, although they might only be joining to avoid any blame being put on them, being outsiders. Also joining the mob is ‘Major’ Tetley (Frank Conroy) and his soft-hearted, possibly homosexual son Gerald (William Eythe), who is being dragged along by his father to “make him a man”.

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Trailer: Hell or High Water

I love a good modern western, be it No Country For Old Men or A History of Violence, films that take a lot of the themes of the genre and yet are set in modern times, with a contemporary look. Here we have Chris Pine and Ben Foster playing brothers with some financial problems they feel can be solved by robbing banks. Jeff Bridges plays the aging sheriff looking to get to the bottom of the mystery. It’s all soaked with honeyed cinematography, masculinity (facial hair, and crude language abound) and a fair amount of desperation. Nothing particularly original here, but the pleasure of this kind of movie is in the details.

Hell or High Water is written by Taylor Sheridan, fresh off Sicario, scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and has a lot of pedigree for a simple story. Just the way I like it.

A story about the collision of the Old and New West, two brothers—Toby, a straight-living, divorced father trying to make a better life for his son; and Tanner, a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger—come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. The hold-ups are part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that powerful forces beyond their control have stolen from under their feet. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they find themselves in the cross-hairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement. As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms.