A Fistful of Djangos

The sloppy state of Italian intellectual property law and enforcement in the mid-20th Century enabled all sorts of cinematic shenanigans. For instance, Zombie Flesh Eaters was known as Zombi 2 in the Italian market and presented as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead (whose Italian release was called Zombi), and a number of movies came out presenting themselves as Zombi 3 when it became clear that there was a hungry audience for this sort of stuff.

Another example is the Django craze of the late 1960s and early 1970s. After the 1966 release of the Spaghetti Western Django, a swathe of Westerns came out capitalising on its popularity – often by just adding the name “Django” to their titles and changing nothing, which is awkward when the movies in question don’t include a character called Django (or even a character who resembles Franco Nero’s character in the original movie).

Some of these were dross, some are pretty good, and naturally any obscure movie craze from this period is going to sooner or later catch the attention of Quentin Tarantino and be recycled by him: thus, Django Unchained, with Jamie Foxx in the title character, came out in 2012, prompting in turn a brace of reissues of Django movies. Talking Pulp has produced some reviews of these, and here’s my take on two of them.

Django

In the first Django movie the iconic character – played this time around by Franco Nero – is introduced to us as he’s dragging a coffin through mud and filth in a miserable rainstorm, wearing the remnants of a Union uniform. He encounters and rescues María (Loredana Nusciak), a prostitute who has become caught up in a conflict between Mexican bandits and the forces of Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo), a Confederate officer who, with the Civil War over and ol’ Dixie run down, has gone off West to fight his own private war against those he considers racially inferior.

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A Fistful of Blu-Rays

Arrow Video may be best known for their blu-ray releases of cult horror cinema, but they’ve had a fine line in Westerns over the years; here’s a couple of releases from them I’ve found particularly interesting, both from the boom of Spaghetti Westerns that followed Sergio Leone’s classic Fistful of Dollars and its sequels. These two are particularly interesting for the very different attitudes they have – one is morbidly nihilistic and melancholy, the other is intensely moral (but not without reservations).

Cemetery Without Crosses

Our story begins with Ben Caine (Benito Stefanelli), husband of Maria (Michèle Mercier), falling foul of the brutal Rogers family; they kill him and force Maria to watch, and then go and burn the ranch house that the Caines shared with Ben’s brothers.

Before the disaster, Ben and his siblings seem to have scammed the Rogers somehow; the surviving brothers make sure to split the loot between themselves and Maria. She takes her share and brings it to Manuel (Robert Hossein), who used to be a good friend to Ben and her. Manuel is a strange, haunted gunslinger who lives in a ruined ghost town and who always puts on a single black glove before he’s about to get violent. Maria commissions him to help her get revenge – which comes in a form she didn’t expect, but is more than happy to exploit if it will twist the knife in her enemies’ hearts. In the long run, a terrible confrontation is inevitable.

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Kickstopper: Back Book 2

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Webcomics are great when they’re not terrible, and two of the most consistently not-terrible webcomic creators of recent years have been Andrew Clark of Nedroid Picture Gallery fame and the much-memed K.C. Green, creator of series like Gunshow and He Is a Good Boy, with breakout hits including that doggo who doesn’t think things are all that bad, Anime Club and the comic which inspired the “magical realm” meme.

But do these two great tastes taste great together? Luckily, a recent Kickstarter of theirs lets me offer the answer in Kickstopper form.

Usual Note On Methodology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you’ve read, there’s a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else’s. In particular, I’m only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can’t review rewards I didn’t actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I’ve received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the “Name, DNA and Fingerprints” section notes whether I’m embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I’ll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I’d bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I’d never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I’d back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

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Jim Jarmusch Via Germany, Part 1

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

If you like arthouse cinema – or even cinema which veers fashionably close to arthouse but which scratches the sides of the mainstream here and there – you probably run into Jim Jarmusch at some point, the man having more or less never released a film which wasn’t at least interestingly ambitious.

At the same time, getting a high-quality collection of his work can, depending on what market you’re in, be a pain. For instance, one of my favourite films of his is Dead Man, and – at least the last time I looked – you just couldn’t get a blu-ray of it in the UK.

After some poking about, however, I found Jim Jarmusch: the Complete Collection, a German release of all his movies from his debut, Permanent Vacation, to 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive, on blu-ray (with the exception of Year of the Horse, which is provided on DVD). What I didn’t account for was the fact that the German blu-rays would not necessarily have the full range of subtitles on; sure, the actual original English-language soundtracks were all present and correct, but Jarmusch’s movies are often multi-lingual, and the absence of English subtitles for segments of non-English dialogue could sometimes be a problem.

On the whole, I think the set was still worth the money – for most of the movies, the subtitle issue is not too bad, especially if you understand a few scraps of German. And there’s few other ways to get a really complete overview of the man’s work.

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Back From the Brink

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

A while back I ranted about my disappointment with the plot of Red Dead Redemption – in particular, the way it went out of its way to make you care about the protagonist, John Marston, and then expected you to be satisfied with playing is irritating son Jack for the epilogue. Well, John’s back in Undead Nightmare, an expansion which provides a complete additional single-player story for the game and which not only makes the flaws of the core game’s plot better, but also improves a number of gameplay features from the original.

The plot of Undead Nightmare picks up close to the end of the original game, during that period when John has retired to his farm with his wife and his irritating kid and kooky old farmhand. Suddenly: zombie plague happens, both John’s wife and kid get bitten, John hogties them and leaves them with some big plates of stake to indulge their undead hunger on whilst he rides off to look for a cure. This search leads him to catch up with many of the people he encountered during the main storyline in the original game, which is usually taken by the writers as an opportunity to get some closure on those relationships by depicting the people in question dying horribly – a technique that’s actually quite effective, since if you’ve played the main plot you already know all these people quite well and therefore already have some sort of investment in whether they live or die.

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The Last Shot is a Dud

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

This article contains major spoilers for the main plot of Red Dead Redemption. In fact, it’s specifically about the ending, and I do a lot of complaining about it. If you don’t want to be spoiled, just skip this article and come back when you’re done with the game.

For those of you who don’t care about computer games but are reading the article anyway: Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar’s new Western-themed sandbox action game – some of the Ferrets have taken to calling it Grand Theft Cowboy. The main character is John Marston, a former outlaw whose wife and teenaged son, Jack, have been kidnapped by the government in order to blackmail him into hunting down and assassinating his former comrades-in-arms.

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Clint’s Last Three Shots

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I’ve never really managed to get into Westerns. I’d like to, it’s just that until now I didn’t really know where to start. It doesn’t help that the genre has been in severe decline for the last few decades. It really doesn’t help that the genre occasionally has severe problems with handling of race and gender issues. (On the other hand, show me a genre that doesn’t.) I’ve recently made another attempt to get into the genre after catching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on television, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s magnum opus being as good a gateway drug for Westerns as any.

Helpfully, Warner Brothers have put out a convenient three-disc box set featuring The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven, Eastwood’s last Western of the 1970s and his only Westerns of the 1980s and 1990s respectively. It seemed to me like the logical next place to go after the Dollars trilogy, so I gave it a look.

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