Entries in Franco February (2)

Monday
Feb252013

Franco February: DJANGO (1966) Review

As Franco February comes to a close, it’s about time to examine the film that started it all. The movie that made Franco so popular in the sixties and seventies and helped kick start the spaghetti western craze. Most people are familiar with its name due to a recent (and awesome) “reboot” of sorts (really not that at all). How do you introduce a movie like this? Of course, I can only be talking about…

DJANGO (1966) Review

In the 1800’s, a mysterious gunslinger only calling himself Django (Nero) walks into a desolate town pulling a coffin. He saves a young woman from being killed by a KKK-type band of outlaws led by the ruthless Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) and discovers hatred between them and a gang of Mexican bandits. Django has a history with Jackson and is out to ruin him in every way he can, so he sides with the Mexicans and robs Jackson of a ton of gold. However, Django has an agenda of his own that may cost him his life…

Okay, Django may not have sparked the spaghetti western craze (Leon’s Dollars trilogy was probably responsible for that), but it did leave one hell of an impact. If you’ve heard of Django, you’ve no doubt heard of the huge amount of unrelated westerns taking the name while not really being sequels (ironically, the one “real” sequel from 1987 is more mediocre than most of the unofficial ones I’ve seen). In my personal opinion, the one true sequel is Django, Prepare A Coffin, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about the original. Nero is the one familiar face in the cast, and boy does he look young. Maybe it’s the lack of any serious facial hair. And even though nobody else really achieved fame, everyone did respectable jobs, which is hard to see past the awful dubbing. That’s really the movie’s weakness; choosing the wrong voice for each character. Worst of all is Django himself; Nero is a gruff-looking guy, and this voice seems more akin to a tour guide at a museum.

In my mind there are two kinds of Italian directors: the visionary ones and the ones interested in making a corny B-movie to get a paycheck. Sergio Corbucci is clearly the former. Right off the bat, Django holds your attention with one of the best title songs you’ll ever hear and the striking image of a figure trudging through a muddy wasteland dragging a coffin behind him. In most westerns, all of the action takes place in a sandy landscape, but not in Django. Everything in the beginning looks filthy, from Django’s ragged outfit to the people themselves. The mystery of what’s in the coffin holds your attention during the kind of slow beginning, and I’m not going to spoil what’s in it. It’s revealed like twenty minutes in, but the reveal itself is so awesomely done I’ll save that for your own viewing pleasure.

The plot is simplicity itself, so Django really relies on its stylistic elements to make it as great as it is. It’s Italian, so the camerawork is naturally really good, and the score is out of this world. Luis Bacalov, who’s probably best known for collaborating with Quentin Tarantino some, composed it and it’s perfection. Every piece of it fits each scene exceptionally well, especially the main theme. Another aspect that makes this movie stand out from others of its kind is the depth the main character has. Django isn’t the do-good cowboy of the ‘30s; he’s an antihero more than anything. He’s just a good guy who’s gotten screwed over by life so bad he attempts to only care for himself when there’s really much more to him. The fight scenes are choreographed very nicely, and this is one of the rare westerns where the fighting actually feels real (exaggerated sound effects intact, though). The climax is strong, but what I’ve found is the case with a lot of spaghetti westerns, the main villain(s) is vanquished too fast and too easily, but the final shot is a memorable one.

I really hate reviewing this movie. Don’t get me wrong; I love Django and I love talking about it, but the problem is I’m writing it for a website called Obscure Cinema 101. This movie really shouldn’t be obscure at all. This is one of the best westerns out there, and it’s one I would rank right up with Leon’s classics. Even with Tarantino’s Django Unchained gaining a lot of popularity, I still don’t think the original gets the attention it deserves. Aside from some questionable dubbing and a climax that should have been a little more, well, climactic. The characters, the action, the twists, the sets, the music, the cinematography are all present and are some of the best around. Blue Underground is on the ball yet again with both a DVD and a Blu-Ray of Django, and both look great. This is one you should really buy on Blu-Ray just for all the great aesthetics of it. The extras are great too, with interviews with Nero and assistant director Ruggero Deodato, a short film with Nero, a documentary on spaghetti westerns, and trailers. This comes as highly recommended from me. I’m giving it a 9/10 for its small problems, but every time I watch it, I feel inclined to boost it up to a 10, so take that for what you will.

The Verdict: Django is by far Franco Nero’s best film and one he hasn’t been able to top yet, despite his impressive catalogue. Even if you’re not a fan of westerns, check this one out, and you may find yourself watching more like it within a week.

Score: 9/10

Sunday
Feb102013

Franco February: ENTER THE NINJA (1985) Review

Continuing with Franco February, I decided it was time to head to America. Naturally, most of Nero’s movies are Italian, so it was kind of rare to see him appearing in anything that wasn’t from Italy. But nevertheless, here he is, and he’s not alone. He’s costarring with ninja movie veteran Sho Kosugi! In a ninja movie! Along with Christopher George as the villain! Directed by Mennahem Golan! And two other actors who were in eighties slashers! Then again, the last time something was this perfect we got The Tomb. Or Young Warriors.

ENTER THE NINJA (1985) Review

Cole (Nero) has just finished with his training in the art of “ninjitsu” in Japan and has been deemed an official ninja, much to the dismay of rival ninja Hasegawa (Kosugi). Cole heads to the Phillipines to visit his war buddy Frank (Alex Courtney) and his wife Mary Ann (Susan George), who own a considerable chunk of land. Unbeknownst to them, that land has great oil potential, so evil businessman Mr. Venarius (Christopher George) wants to drive them off to get his hands on it. Luckily, Cole is there to thwart all his plans, but Venarius has something else up his sleeve: he’s ordered a ninja from Japan to drive them off (guess who it is). Cole must then battle the ninja and Venarius’s entire corporation in an attempt to save his friend and eliminate Venarius!

Enter the Ninja is the first in a trilogy of ninja movies (the latter being Revenge of the Ninja and the supernatural Ninja III: The Domination, none of which have anything to do with each other), all starring Sho Kosugi. I had watched all of them in reverse order before and wasn’t terribly impressed. Then comes Enter the Ninja, which is just a beautiful melting pot of inane greatness that most ninja movies lack. The whole thing has this mentality where it doesn’t give a crap about things like “logic” and just has fun with it. It knows no one will ever take a ninja movie seriously (if you are, you’re doing something wrong), so all of the corny little pieces do nothing but add to the fun. A great cast helps it as well, with Nero, Kosugi (who starred in my favorite ninja flick,Pray for Death), Christopher George (PiecesGraduation Day, and many others), Susan George (Straw Dogs), Alex Courtney (Fatal Pulse) and Will Hare as Dollars, who’s probably best known for playing the scary grandpa in Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Given that this is from the director of The Delta Force, you know there’s going to be very little downtime and zero boredom. When there isn’t some great kung-fu fight going on, we get to enjoy some corny dialogue and over-the-top performances (mostly by Christopher George). As an Italian in the middle of an American production, Nero doesn’t feel very out of place and his cool demeanor gives the movie extra cool balances and acts as a nice balance to some of the vicious overacting on display by other actors. None of the actors are very “good,” but their own brand of thespianism makes the movie even more fun. Some of the dialogue is amusing too; after all, who doesn’t enjoy hearing Christopher George yell, “I want my black ninja and I want him now!”like an upset toddler?

The movie is like a mix between a ninja movie, a martial arts movie, and even a “man pushed too far” movie at the end when Nero begins laying waste to all of Venarius’s men, leading up to an epic showdown between himself and Hasegawa in a cockfight ring. In fact, all the fight scenes in Enter the Ninja are top-notch. And when there isn’t any fighting going on, there’s some sort of ninja awesomeness going on, from shurikens to blinding powder, and even some spiked balls! There’s a fair amount of bloodshed to go along with it, too. Amidst the (literally) cartoonish sound effects and the preposterous opening scene, the most awesomely stupid part is a certain death scene that’s become infamous on YouTube, due to the acting involved. It would be a spoiler to say whose death it is, you can probably guess because it’s so obvious (trust me, there are no twists in this movie).

Enter the Ninja is one of my favorite Franco Nero movies, as it combines the absurd awesomeness of a Cannon Group film with the rough awesomeness of Franco Nero. Add in a boatload of ninjas (including Sho Kosugi!), Christopher George going nuts, the creepy grandpa from Silent Night, Deadly Night, brisk pacing, and an intense score (by the guy who did the music for New Year’s Evil), and you’ve got the second best ninja movie out there. A DVD was released a year ago under the “MGM Limited Edition Collection” line of DVD-R’s, and most likely without special features. Even without that, the picture looks good and it’s still Enter the Ninja, but it deserves way better. “I want my Enter the Ninja Blu-Ray and I want it now!”

The Verdict: Enter the Ninja skims the surface of perfection, and although it doesn’t quite make it, it’s still a wickedly good ninja-filled time. And at the end, Franco Nero winks at the camera! When does the goodness end?

Score: 9/10