Tag Archives: film reviews

GANG OF ROSES (2003): SPAGHETTI WESTERN FANS TAKE NOTE

Gang of Roses 2003GANG OF ROSES (2003) – The annual Frontierado Holiday, coming August 2nd this year, is about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality. So is the movie Gang of Roses, which is why I cannot believe the merciless reviews this fun, harmless, escapist movie has gotten. I find it far better than the similar Bad Girls

I eat, sleep and breathe Bad Movies, and this was a case where I settled in happily expecting to see an all-time disaster based on the reviews that Gang of Roses gets and its 2.3 rating at IMDb. Instead I saw a movie that I think deserves AT WORST a 5 or 6 rating. Maybe a 7 if you’re into Spaghetti Westerns.

Years ago I gave a glowing review to Posse (1993) starring Mario Van Peebles and, significantly Gang of Roses features a cameo by Van Peebles – dressed as Jesse Lee from Posse – giving an assist to the all-female title gang. He then says “Good luck, ladies” and rides off. (For obvious legal and financial reasons he’s listed in the credits simply as “Cameo” instead of Jesse Lee.)

I mention this because many Western fans told me they would have liked Posse if not for the underlying political message. Well, in Gang of Roses you get all the fun action of Posse with NO politics at all.

Gang of Roses groupLet me give a quick synopsis, then take a look at the main characters, following which I will state my counter-arguments to the most frequent criticisms leveled at this female-led Western:

The gunslinging gang of the title is made up of four black women and one Asian woman. We’re told that after robbing a few dozen banks the gang split up and its members went their separate ways. When the sister of the Roses’ leader gets murdered during an outlaw gang’s crime spree that leader gets the band together again to seek vengeance and a hidden fortune in gold and jewels.

The main characters:  Continue reading

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BREAKHEART PASS (1975)

Breakheart PassBREAKHEART PASS (1975) – (Frontierado is coming up August 2nd and, as always, it’s about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality.) Alistair MacLean may be more closely associated with espionage and crime thrillers like When Eight Bells Toll, The Eagle Has Landed and Puppet on a Chain but his lone Western, Breakheart Pass, is a very solid story which transfers MacLean’s usual themes to the American West.

Charles Bronson stars as Deakin, a former man of medicine turned gambler, con-man and gunslinger. Needless to say his wife Jill Ireland is along for the ride, this time playing a woman being wooed by oily Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna). Ben Johnson portrays Marshal Pearce, Ed Lauter IS Major Claremont and Bill McKinney takes on the role of Reverend Peabody.

Breakheart Pass 2Some critics bash this above-average film because they apparently thought Alistair MacLean’s name on the script meant it would be an over-the-top Western Spy actioner along the lines of Robert Conrad’s old Wild Wild West television series crossed with Where Eagles Dare. Instead, Breakheart Pass comes closer to grittiness than slickness and is all the more enjoyable for that. Continue reading

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KID RUSSELL: EPISODE TWO

For Episode One plus background information click HERE

William Smith Kid Russell 2

William Smith would have made a good Kid Russell in the 60s.

KID RUSSELL

EPISODE TWO

Title: LUCKY BOY

The Year: 1882

Synopsis: We move on to the period in which future artist Kid Russell was working for the famed Jake “Lucky Boy” Hoover. Lucky Boy was a former prospector turned trapper, guide and professional big game hunter. After having been fired by his previous employer in 1881 (see Episode One), Russell struck up a friendship with Hoover.

William Smith good Kid Russell 2During the two years that Kid Russell worked for Lucky Boy, he learned all about trapping and hunting, though he never fully warmed up to either trade, however, since he preferred painting wildlife to blood-sports. He took much more enthusiastically to learning the survival lore that went hand-in-hand with them.

Charley’s favorite of all the businesses he and Lucky Boy pursued was serving as guides for wealthy Easterners as well as European and Russian Nobility and tycoons, many of whom flocked to the Montana area in the 1880s. These magnates and blue-bloods loved vacationing in the already romantic Wild West and enjoyed the scenery plus the big-game hunting. (See the Euro-Western Shalako as well as The Hunting Party for the kind of dangers such expeditions could encounter.)  Continue reading

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THE COMIC (1985): MOVIE REVIEW

The Comic bigTHE COMIC (1985) – Virtually every film buff today knows the tale of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert raising money from doctors, grocers and dentists in Michigan to finance their subsequent horror hit The Evil Dead

Over in the U.K. Richard Driscoll raised money from Welsh miners and doctors to finance his very odd movie The Comic. Raimi and company went on to lucrative careers in the entertainment industry. Driscoll’s story did not have the same type of fairy-tale ending. Not even with an established figure like John Eyres helping out financially when Richard’s original funds ran out.  

The Comic 2The Comic takes place “in another place and another time” according to one of the female characters. From appearances it’s a near-future police state in which fairly ambiguous laws are enforced by goose-stepping goons who wear their hair in ponytails. This film seems to be reaching for the heights achieved in cult films like Eraserhead and Café Flesh but falls so far short that it’s more like The Jar.

Writer/ director Driscoll also peppers in elements of MacBeth, Hamlet and King Lear but only succeeds in embodying the worst clichés of arthouse cinema. If this had been a latter-day student film or direct to video affair it would not deserve all the insults that reviewers throw its way. But if you’re cheeky enough to dump something like this on the theater-going public you’re just asking for a critical onslaught. Continue reading

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GLADIATOR: AN OPERA VERSION OF PHILIP WYLIE’S NOVEL

GladiatorEven though there are signs here and there that audiences are getting fatigued with the oversaturation of superhero adaptations for the big and small screens, there still doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.

What better time for an OPERA version of Philip Wylie’s science fiction novel Gladiator, from 1930? Wylie’s work is often credited with inspiring the creation of Superman and every other superhero that followed.

Long before the overrated and overpraised Alan Moore wrote The Watchmen, this very first look at a superhero presented the figure struggling with the moral issues regarding the use of his superior abilities.

Gladiator 2The central character uses his powers in World War One but afterward must cope with the limits of “super-powers” when it comes to dealing with political corruption and other problems that can’t be solved with violence. Or in which flexing his super-muscles would be counter-productive, maybe even ushering in a dictatorship.

In other words, the same type of stories which today are praised as “innovative” for “deconstructing the superhero mythos” WERE ALREADY EXPLORED IN THIS NOVEL EIGHTY-NINE YEARS AGO! 

As a break from movie and television superhero tales I think an Opera format would be an intriguing and unexpected way of adapting Gladiator. Let’s face it – if it was done for television or movies today it would be criticized as “derivative” (irony of ironies) and “talky.”

Gladiator 4 Man God

Marvel Comics’ 1976 adaptation

That talkyness would slide nicely into a staged opera since, as I often point out in my examinations of 1970s Marvel stories, operas – like many comic books – are filled with lengthy expository monologues, but in song form. (There are countless “senses-shattering” origin stories and villain rants that are sung in operas.) 

Think of this piece as a way of using the familiar superhero formula to encourage more people to “give opera a chance.” I love sharing my enthusiasms and I was very happy with the reception of those blog posts where I wrote about Ancient Greek Comedies to make them seem relevant. I want to try doing the same with operas.

Many people may disagree, but operas and superheroics are made for each other. Look at all the operas adapted from tales of ancient gods or other mythical supernatural figures. When you get right down to it, every larger-than life hero or heroine in any given story can be interpreted from a superhero angle. Continue reading

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THE LAST DAYS OF PATTON (1986)

Last days of pattonTHE LAST DAYS OF PATTON (1986) – George C Scott SINGS! Yes, an ENTIRE SONG while camping it up like he’s in a vaudeville revue! Blood and Guts Song and dance man George S Patton belches belts out Lilly From Picadilly in a WTF moment from this otherwise reasonable made-for-tv movie which SHOULD have been titled AfterP*A*T*T*O*N.

Nearly two decades after George C Scott played Patton on the big screen he returned to the role to depict the final days of the controversial military icon. The above-referenced strange interlude in which the General sang on-stage was a mere aberration but you just knew that as weird as I am I would start out my review with it.  

The Scottsploitation angle is the best thing The Last Days of Patton has going for it, because without the novelty appeal of the charismatic actor in the lead role this telefilm would be hopelessly soap-operatic. We’re told the General had an affair with a younger woman but his stoic wife (Eva Marie Saint) tolerated it even though she did not approve. We also get lots of medical drama after Patton is paralyzed following a car accident in Germany the day before he was to leave for America.  

Last Days of Patton 2Roughly half of the movie is spent with the great George C Scott in a hospital bed, like we’re watching Whose Life Is It Anyway, Ya Pusillanimous Sons of Bitches? Scott is always watchable, and really shines here, but the other actors have no room. With such a gigantic figure – real-life Elmer Fudd voice aside – it may have been like that in reality, too. Sharing any stage with the likes of George S Patton must have been suffocating for one’s own ego.  Continue reading

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COMIN’ AT YA! (1981): MOVIE REVIEW

Comin at Ya 2COMIN’ AT YA! (1981) – Directed by Ferdinando Baldi, Comin’ At Ya! is often credited with starting the pointless and bizarre 1980s revival of 1950s-style 3D movies. The film stars Tony Anthony, famous to us Spaghetti Western fans for the movie series in which he played a gunslinger called the Stranger. He appeared in others, as well, some reasonably good and others, like Blindman, so bad as to be virtually unwatchable.

Tony’s standout feature is the way he always looks like he’s ready to burst into tears, which always set him apart from the countless tough guys in Italo-Westerns. That feature stands him in good stead in Comin’ At Ya!

Tony Anthony

Tony Anthony IS Tinsley – I mean H. H. Hart – in Comin’ At Ya!

Anthony stars as gunfighter H.H. Hart. No, not H.H. Holmes, which would be an entirely different type of movie. Hart has, like many a fictional gunman, decided to leave his past behind and settle down with his one true love – a female gambler called Abilene aka the Cajun Queen. Abilene is portrayed by European actress Victoria Abril.

On their wedding day, H.H. and Abilene are separated when the ceremony is crashed by a gang of white-slavers led by brothers Pike and Polk Thompson. Our story inverts the setup of Louis L’Amour’s western The Shadow Riders, in which two brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War set aside their differences to recover female family members from white-slavers headed for Mexico. 

In Comin’ At Ya! it’s the villains who are such a pair of brothers. Pike served on the Union side and Polk on the Confederate side. The duo command an enormous gang made up of veterans from both sides of the war in addition to renegade Indians and Mexican pistoleros. They steal the lovely Cajun Queen from her new husband and add her to the rest of their haul of young women to sell into slavery down in 1870s Mexico.

comin at ya - cinema quad movie poster (1).jpgOur main character, Triple H, ain’t havin’ it and sets out to recover his new bride and set free the other unfortunate women seized by the Thompson Gang. Needless to say he’ll also kill every member of the gang as well as some of the snobbish, upper-class Mexican aristos – male and female – who buy the ladies at an elegantly-appointed mansion/ former convent now used for slave auctions.

Even though this is really just a Spaghetti Western, albeit with slightly better production values, releasing a film titled Comin’ At Ya! clearly means you want it to stand or fall purely on its gimmick: 3D. First I’ll address the 3D effects and then examine the movie as a whole. Continue reading

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