Sergio Leone

Kiefer Pompeii

What if I told you that the people of Pompeii had it coming? That the whole city was a moral cesspool and the eruption of Vesuvius was a final judgment on a corrupt society? You would probably object on grounds of basic human decency, and you’d be right. But I’m not the one that thinks so. That would be Hollywood. There aren’t very many movies about the destruction of Pompeii, but the handful that exist share something quite objectively strange. Paul W.S. Anderson‘s fiery dud is only the newest example of this genre, a disaster movie in which the audience is invited to find moral satisfaction in the flames. With Pompeii it isn’t quite so obvious, but I’d argue that’s just because the script is terrible and doesn’t know exactly how to express what it’s going for. You have to look at it in the context of the earlier, more explicitly judgmental Vesuvius flicks to get at the heart of Anderson’s shabby muddle.

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The Good The Bad and The Ugly

Three men standing around, sixty-five shots in two-and-a-half minutes, and one of the most thrilling moments in cinema history. Obviously the hours of story that come before the climax of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly have a lot to do with why we care so much what happens to Blondie (and to Angel Eyes and Tuco), but this new video essay from Max Tohine breaks down the technical side of how Sergio Leone and the film’s editors Eugenio Alabiso and Nino Baragli capitalized fully on the groundwork by delivering the exclamation mark moment that the story needed. It’s a testament to visually delivering what characters are thinking, particularly in a game theory-laden standoff. It’s also educational from a filmmaking perspective and damned interesting from the fan side of things.

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Over Under - Large

Once upon a time, Hollywood was king of the Western and the idea of anybody over in Europe making a movie about the American Southwest as successful as something like High Noon was laughable. Italian-produced films about the west, or Spaghetti Westerns, were largely low budget knock-offs where fading Hollywood stars went to die after their careers had peaked. But the work of Sergio Leone changed that viewpoint. His “The Man With No Name” trilogy wasn’t just a worldwide financial success upon release, the films have gone on to be seen as some of the greatest Westerns produced anywhere, throughout the history of film. And the final installment of that series, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, has especially become an important part of the fabric of pop culture. More than any other Western I can think of, it’s stood the test of time and achieved a level of awareness that rivals any other classic film in any other genre. Often it’s referred to as not just the definitive Spaghetti Western and Leone’s masterpiece, but as the definitive Western, period. That’s all fine and good, because I think The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is largely a great film; but I think he actually improved two years later when he made Once Upon a Time in the West, my pick for the greatest Western of all time.

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Culture Warrior

Masculinity has always been the major topic of concern in the work of Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Just look at the series he made his name with, the Pusher trilogy, which in three installments provide three very different but equally compelling stories of occasionally brazen, often buffoonish masculinity within various facets of the Copenhagen illegal drug trade. So it is no surprise that the directors latest work (his ‘breakthrough’ years, if you will) are continuously concerned with the turbulent lives of men, culminating this weekend with his most ‘mainstream’ entry, Drive (in purely box-office terms, as Drive in its opening weekend made more than 84x what his previous two films made together, yet the film is still ripe with Refn’s eccentric signature). Refn’s thematic and narrative preoccupation with masculinity has produced three fascinating portraits in as many years. The temporal and social contexts of Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Drive couldn’t be more disparate, but between them he’s produced an unofficial trilogy of sorts connected not only through his deliberate pacing and striking, almost invasive visual style, but more importantly through their shared concerns as portrayals of three aggressive men who wander their respective environments in solitude.

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Culture Warrior

A genre nearly as old as filmmaking itself, the western thrived throughout the years of the studio system but has zigzagged across rough terrain for the past forty or so years. For the last fifteen-ish years, the struggling, commercially unfriendly genre was either manifested in a neoclassical nostalgic form limited in potential mass appeal (Appaloosa, Open Range) or in reimagined approaches that ran the gamut between contrived pap and inspired deconstructions (anything from Wild Wild West to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). But last December, True Grit – a bona fide western remake that relied on the opportunities available in the genre’s conventions rather than bells, whistles, or ironic tongues in their respective cheeks – became a smash hit. Did this film reinvigorate a genre that was on life support, as the supposed revitalization of the musical is thought to have done a decade ago, or are westerns surviving by moving along a different route altogether? Three westerns released so far this year – Gore Verbinski’s Rango, Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, and, as of this weekend, Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens – suggest mixed directions for the dusty ol’ genre.

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Italian actor Franco Nero talked to reporters at the Los Angeles Italia Festival recently and caused a bit of a stir when he mentioned Quentin Tarantino’s name while discussing his next project. Nero described it thus, “The film will be called The Angel, The Bad, and The Wise and is a tribute to Sergio Leone. It’s a movie that contains humor, lots of action, but also a great plot. We have already been signed by a dozen people who will be part of project. Among the filmmakers involved include Quentin Tarantino , Keith Carradine, Treat Williams, fifteen people in all Americans who want to do this movie and so we are trying to produce it outside of Italy.” According to an update from Aint It Cool, the title may be totally wrong, but Tarantino is definitely planning to do a spaghetti Western, and Christoph Waltz will be co-starring in some capacity. Treat it with the grain of rumor salt for now, but it sounds plausible. The earlier quote, taken in context, could mean that Tarantino might have any number of itty-bitty little insignificant roles in the production; but people are already going ahead and speculating that this is going to be the next film he directs anyways.

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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