This is a title card:
That’s German and it means “the fuck?” Which is what I was thinking at least every thirty seconds or so during Sartana and the Valley of Death. Much like the Django character, Sartana had an original run of core movies and an additional dozen total rip-offs looking to capitalize on the name alone. These unauthorized sequels were pumped out with all the polish of a watery turd. Ill formed and difficult to look at (watery turd) there were bits of humor and entertainment to be had during its merciful 79 minute run time but I don’t believe any of them were intentional. These films were meant to be gritty not shitty, but want in one hand and make this movie with another and see what you get. I could see every attempt at spectacle coming a mile away the likes of which would have made the outcome of a T-ball homerun derby at the Special Olympics unexpectedly engaging by comparison.
At one point our protagonist, Lee Calloway, is trying to GTFO and ends up cornered between two advancing lines of angry townsfolk. Slowly being corralled towards a seemingly inescapable doom this moment has all the tension of an original Star Wars film and all the fucktardery of a Star Wars special edition. How does our anti-hero get away? By shooting the ground till it explodes of course causing all the horses to scatter just like The Duke and Clint always did. For the record, when this gets re-released in fifteen years or so it will be edited so that the ground shoots first. So, Lee avoids both capture and competent storytelling by heading off into the badlands with a trio of bastardos he released on their word that they would cut him in for 50% of some gold they just stole. Things don’t go as planned however:
Up to this point all the negotiations had been proceeding heavily in Lee’s favor as the percentage he was owed kept climbing for reasons I have thankfully forgotten. Rest assured, if you’ve ever seen Nucky Thompson work a room to his advantage then you might just compare this movie to Boardwalk Empire, of course I might just punch you in both fucking balls if you do. I’m just kidding, I will punch you in both balls if you do. But let’s let things you nor your balls have ever probably thought be as water under the bridge eh? We shouldn’t be getting our blood up for a film that doesn’t even, at any point, feature it’s titular character. Sure, IMDB lists Lee Calloway as “AKA Sartana” but he’s never referred to as such on screen. Imagine having a woman over for adult activities and she gets naked and you get naked and she’s like “what the hell is that?” once she spots your flagrantly tiny penis to which you reply “that’s my flagrantly tiny penis AKA huge goddamn cock!” The producers of Sartana and the Valley of Death were without a doubt betting on the fact that by the time you figured out the Sartana you knew and loved was nowhere to be found in their film you’d just sit there and finish what you started to slink away, just like your date above, once the deed was done bathed in lackluster cinema and below average sexual performance. Don’t be ashamed though Lee, this happens to a lot of fellas your age.
About the time things go all to shit in this movie, well, beyond when I pressed “play”, we find Lee wandering hopelessly in a Valley of Death so at least the title got that part right. But no one accurately figured the effective range of the pistols he fires at those double crossing dicks who are dogging him from on high. I’m not expert but the dude empties a gun belt’s worth of ammunition from what looks like anywhere between 30 and 50 yards and never even gets close. This guy shot the dirt earlier and it blew up so he should be causing avalanches with his mind by this point by no, instead we’re treated to this film’s version of Blondie’s famously tortuous death march across the wilderness from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I would bet you twenty percent of this movie is spent of Lee listlessly stumbling over some Deustchland-y desert. Laborious but expertly so, Leone’s journey was deftly delivered to us with the skill of a master surgeon. By contrast, this scene in Sartana is like checking your own prostate with a crow bar after slathering both hands with Vaseline. By the end of it all you feel about as good as Lee does:
I simply cannot impress upon you how grueling it was to watch all this. I have had more fun watching documentaries about the Holocaust. I took a slap-shot to the balls once: immeasurably more enjoyable. One time I had blood in my stool and every thought of what that might mean was more stimulating to me than anything I had just seen. Here, these are called “sailing stones.”
Until now scientists have often wondered how they seemed to moved unassisted across the sands. I can answer without reservation that it’s because these rocky motherfuckers are just trying to get as far away from this film as possible. Pacing then is just one casualty of this film. Women’s lib is another. Whether we’re talking about the poor country bumpkin girl who sounds like she’s one of Bo and Duke’s lost cousins, the charming Southern Belle send-up with such breathy dialogue she’d make Marilyn Monroe roll her eyes or the lounge singer who comes off about as bright as your standard pool float, every woman you see on screen is there only to make you and your flagrantly tiny penis feel good about yourselves. It’s as if the casting director once heard Andrew “Dice” Clay’s famous “two tits, a hole and a heartbeat” bit and thought “that’s exactly what we need!” A one dimensional object would look morbidly obese next to any of theses women who are so devoid of personality beyond a regional accent that the gas you last passed would be more engaging to converse with. A great Western, any great movie in fact, relies on memorable action, notable words and souls, troubled or otherwise, swirling behind the eyes of its characters. All Sartana and the Valley of Death brought to the table was comically inept editing, troubled scene continuity, an oddly named gunman whose skill with a pistol came and went like the breeze, three silly bitches and a hillside of mechanical Mexican dancing dolls trying hard as fuck to make the finale artsy and fartsy. They failed at one of those attempts.
2 rounds in the cylinder. I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse but this was still a damn chore. A chore like having to do the dishes while blindfolded only using your butt cheeks. You get through it, but by the end you’re wet, confused and your ass is all kinds of cramped. You are however still alive and you’ve learned some important lessons. Like never watch Sartana and the Valley of Death and forks can do a surprising amount of damage to your ass if you’re not careful.
Even in the deepest of crevasses, ain’t life just grand sometimes?
The first time I heard “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour I knew it was special. Little did I know when I saw them play live at the very fist Lollapalooza back in (ah hell!) 1991 that the song would come to be very special for me. Lately it’s been associated with the former WWE wrestler C.M. Punk. That was until this weekend at Anime Festival Orlando when it sort of became my theme song.
AFO has always been close to Angie’s heart and to mine since we started going about 10 years ago. Great con, great guests, great attendees and always great damn memories to stay with me once all the “goodbyes” are said and done. This year was AFO’s 15th anniversary and once again Angie and I were honored and excited to be a part of putting on one fucking fine anime show here in sunny Central Florida. Back at the fully renovated, gorgeous and fabulously feng-shui Wyndham Orlando Resort, Florida’s Fan Favorite Anime Convention got to me more than perhaps any other year, or any other con, ever has. More on that in a bit, first there’s a few thanks that need to go out to some very deserving folks:
To all the volunteers, you served with alacrity, knowledge of your surroundings and seemingly endless energy. You’ve no idea how your smiles, bright eyes and liberal use of handshakes, fist-bumps and hugs mean to everyone you came across. You were all polite and professional. Thanks for greasing the mighty cogs of our con. It was very much appreciated.
To the “Rocket Rangers of Orlandia” production crew, the writers, actors, costume assemblers, stage managers and directors: job goddamn well done. I was less involved than ever with the RPG aspect this year which is to say not at all so it was with a giddy sense of anticipation I waited to take in each chapter of this year’s epic tale. And once the finale came, no one, including myself, was disappointed. We started something special a few years back and you all have continued to run with it. For all your hard work and excitement in doing so, I thank you.
To the tech crew. Without you nothing would be seen and no one would be heard. Not one game could be played, nor any AMVs enjoyed. No one could hang on every word of our guest or try to ignore mine. As a host, you all are extremely near and dear to my heart. Without that soapbox you all tirelessly build for those of us upon the stage each and every year we would have nowhere at all to stand. That we can all jump up and entertain every one every time, I thank you. You’ve done more than I can ever express and have given me more than I can ever return.
To our guests, professionals one and all, much respect and all the best for your future endeavors. I count many of you as friends, some as close ones at that, and hopefully one as a future boyfriend (You know who you are Reuben Langdon call me!) Every one of you went above and beyond to give our attendees a terrific fan experience that will not soon be duplicated. To work with you all, to see the looks in the kids’ eyes and feel the excitement in their hearts, was a pleasure. Whether we’re 8 or 80, you are the voices of so many childhoods. My deepest thanks for keeping that spirit alive.
And to Karen and Eric. I know this year has been challenging but none of us will ever know the depths you’ve both had to tread just so we can all get together and celebrate our silly fascination with Asiatic cartoons. Your endlessly hard work is apparent. The dedication you have to this genre and these fans is monumental. And the gratitude I feel that you allow my wife and I to be your voice each and every year is immeasurable. I thank you, for the opportunity, your confidence and your love, more than you will ever know.
AFO 15. Big year but I’d have never guessed how big going into it. The year leading to AFO 14 had been difficult on a personal and professional level for me and I used the Panel About Nothing for something very different than it had ever been used for up to that point. I began with a speech, here on the blog if you care enough to dig, but I won’t put a link here as the exact words aren’t even important at this moment.
What happened a year later is.
From a heavy and terribly true heart I cried out to you many months ago. I called on you to take responsibility for whatever direction you were headed in, I demanded that you stand up to whatever bullshit you were faced with, I challenged you to make this world a better place no matter the cost. Then unexpectedly, but so delightfully, it seems some of you listened. I don’t consider myself much of a leader in the formal sense of the word. I’m a loose cannon with a loud mouth and a smart ass. But you listened. The P.A.N is hours of drunken fuckery, hardly the hearth in which to grow the fires of personal revolution but goddamit, you listened. And story after story after story came my way of lives that were changed for the better all beginning that night. I planted some seeds, some could say out of vanity or pride, but those seeds grew and took on a life of their own and last weekend, as the panel came to a close with a great deal of whiskey in my belly some of you came and shared what you did (started exercising, moved across the country, put together your own fucking awesome panel!) all these stories came to me along with a more than a few choked back tears and right there along with the gut full of whiskey my heart swelled with gratitude.
Fans, friends, family…one of my greatest joys is to grab a microphone and give people a night they will never forget. I am narcissistic and I am vain. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that no one I have ever seen, no one I ever will see, can touch what I do on stage. For 10 or 10,000 I speak, the thunder booms, and the audience shudders with an electricity that few understand and even fewer have the ability to reproduce.
Because doing so requires knowing a certain truth. A truth not many can accept.
As a voice, I am nothing if I am not heard. Many have spoken but many have fooled themselves that you’re really listening and not just checking your watches. I always knew you were listening to me and now I have the proof. This is a symbiotic relationship then, beyond belief. From the very bottom of my heart, thank you. For being there, taking my words to heart and then going out to change the world. I stand up on that golden pedestal every single time I get the chance but it’s not because I’m better than you.
It’s because I’m the very best with you.
You will know joy completely
And be inspired
You might not believe it if I tell you that when I walk through the streets of that town too tough to die, Tombstone, Arizona, there are folks who readily recognize me and many I recognize as well. It’s a ghost town that’s still breathing, it’s insular and has just as much love and consternation between all who dwell there as any fandom I’ve ever been involved with. But instead of whining about the benefits of painting on your abdominals to look better as a Spartan with tough-guy internet talk, the denizens of Tombstone are all true badasses born of the desert and not terribly keen on bullshit or those who like to sling it. I’m proud to know a handful of ‘em and even moreso to call a select few pals.
It wasn’t much of a surprise then as I watched Ambush at Dark Canyon and saw someone I actually recognized but rather one of those holy-shit-I-know-that-dude-who-just-took-a-nice-roll-down-that-rock-face kind of moments we’ve all certainly experienced. Seeing Lee take a bump was one of the highlights though as sadly this movie only delivered in fits and spurts not unlike an aging pornstar’s trembling and time-worn penis. Here’s Kix Brooks!
One half of the now disbanded country duo of ”Brooks and Dunn”, Kix has recently been dabbling with an acting career. Yes, one of the men who brought us “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” is now singing rather a different tune. Or several of them to flesh out Dark Canyon‘s soundtrack. On their own after a long day’s ride with your feet propped up by a campfire and a glass of whiskey in your hand they’d be just fine. Layered over painfully clichéd montages that barely moved the story along however, Mr. Brooks’ oblique words had all the expository grace of being clubbed into unconsiousness by a Charles Dickens novel. Which is to say none. Dickens is an overly wordy and literarily useless motherfucker. Unlike every single story he ever wrote, I’ve outright enjoyed other works that many of the writers and producers involved with Dark Canyon were a part of in the past such as The Gundown and Ghost Rock but this one failed to capture the authenticity of the former or the humor of the latter. While our hero had the look and sound of a badass down pat he squandered those attributes almost as if on purpose. Kix came off so green in most scenes that had he donned a leafy singlet and tried to sell me vegetables it would not have seemed odd.
Ho-ho-ho-ly crap Ambush was a rough one to sit through. The story of a man who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time who must then get to a place and time wherein he can take a shot at putting everything right again before time runs out has been done before and with better results. The script screamed “lazy”. It felt as if it was striving to be little more than utterly mundane. If there were public assistance programs for screenplays this one would be on all of them. Even the tagline you see above is stupendously dull:
“Revenge has Six Bullets”
Jesus H. and W.T.F. Christ? Really? Westerns are suffering in the current movie market because many feel they’re played out, tired and unoriginal. This catchphrase does not help. It may sound cool at first but once you give it even one solitary second-thought you realize it’s as ridiculous as farting in someone’s face and calling it perfume. Might as well go with any of the following:
“Death is coming…and it’s about to get deadly!” or
“You Can’t Spell ‘Vengeance’ without ‘Retribution’!” or
“When the sun sets, get Ready for it to be Dark!” and of course
“He’s Gunning for You…with a Knife!”
Sounds all full of nifty but there just ain’t no substance to any of ‘em. And the beautiful alternate poster fucks up even more callously by invoking all the Mummy movies. “Every kiss begins with Kay” would have made just about as much sense. One rough ride like I said, but bumpy as it was much of the cast gave it a hell of an effort to smooth the trip as much as possible. People like these two:
Meet Abraham Benrubi and Ronnie Gene Blevins. Abraham looks like, and has played, Santa Claus which means he’s a jolly old soul. Ronnie was a cement truck driver in Dark Knight Rises which means he did more to build up that story than any of Bane’s dialogue. Both are veterans you’ve seen over the years more than you’d recall and bring that experience to bear as much as the script and direction allowed. Abe is solid enough while Ronnie has this yearning and stress behind his eyes that betrays an effort deep within him to carry the film with every line he speaks. The pair work as guards at Yuma’s Territorial Prison under the equally adept Timothy V. Murphy.
I knew him from Sons of Anarchy as an Irish gangster and it turns out he’s actually Irish treating his job as the prison warden like the true O’Bastard he is. His in-role intensity is perfectly balanced by Kix’s no-tensity. Every scene they share is like someone who can act talking to someone who can’t. And that’s just as entertaining as it sounds. Still better than Dickens. Rounding out the grey bar hotel’s main staff is Ernie Hudson.
You remember him as being the most famous black Ghostbuster. Ernie’s a swell guy in real life and uses that easy nature to craft comfortably believable characters effortlessly. He’s wasted for most of the film and having him ride alongside Kix towards the final showdown makes that fact even more painful. With an affable and unfussy style Ernie makes Kix look terribly erratic by comparison. Ernie looked real, Kix looked real bad even though he was obviously trying real hard. It was his first time playing a part after all and like most of our “first times” I reckon it was filled with confusion, awkwardness and sobering self-awareness. He’s got “the look” I just hope he can get some legs under him fore I have to suffer too many more performances like this one.
2 rounds for Ambush at Dark Canyon. All the ball bashing was deserved but now it’s said and done and I have this to say as well: I sit at a desk all day and can only dream of being in a pretty shitty Western. I can guarantee you no one got rich making this and everyone came home with a few bumps and bruises but next to those scars will rest the memories of doing what you love when the rest of the world is demanding you do something else entirely. Folks will drive themselves into the grave or slit your throat and leave you in one all for the sake of getting the most out of life but end up with nothing in their hands and even less in their hearts. They’ll leave behind only a list of those they betrayed when they go and top on that list will be their own names. Are you making art or making love or making anything out of your days more than just a paycheck and a few more hours past?
What do you really want amigo?
Answer yourself that honestly, and then get to riding.
Would you believe this week’s title comes from a bible verse? Something along the lines of the good Lord coming to judge “the quick and the dead.” It’s in the New Testament three times, probably interspersed between those parts that remind us all that being gay is evil, that black people shouldn’t speak unless spoken too and Jews are terribly Jewish. All that fallacious fire and brimstone can get a man’s blood up so much that he might wander off into the desert towards a town called Redemption and, once there, enter a shooting contest run by a crooked bastard simply to settle his trembling spirit. Or he might be a woman and feel the same way. And if he is that woman, he might be Sharon Stone:
She’s called “The Lady” because she’s mysterious and because no one in town had seen Basic Instint yet. She has a bone to pick with someone from long ago and her smokewagon is itching to start that bitching. She enters the single elimination style tournament as the classic underdog amidst a slew of stinky, sweaty and gun savvy slingers all vying to show off their talents and out live the competition. Of course she’ll have a little support and advice along the way even if it is from an inexperienced kid like say for instance this ”The Kid”.
It’s hard to tell from this shot but that is none other than fabled star of Critters 3 Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s fast, cocky, fast, overly confident, fast and real damn fast too. He takes an immediate liking to “The Lady” and keeps asking her to play good cop/bad cop for some reason but any highschool horniness takes an abrupt back seat to his real purpose in life and that’s getting daddy to love him. It’s never really phrased that way but that’s what Leo’s subplot is past all the braggadocio and bullets. He’s looking for some respectful acknowledgement and he’ll kill anyone that’s in the way of him gettin’ it including the de facto ruler of Redemption John Herod, who is also perhaps his father, played mercilessly by the ball swellingly bad ass Gene Hackman.
Here he is with the Oak Ridge Boys right before they bust out their classic ”Gene Hackman’s Gonna’ Shoot You Then Fuck Your Corpse!” Such a great song. Whether that happened in the movie or not all the players involved quickly realize that Herod isn’t playing a game in which any of them are likely to best him. And those players include Keith “I’m not David Keith he’s a white dude” David, Gary “It’s only a bit part but still better than all of Basic Instinct 2″ Sinise and Lance “Only one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met in real life no shit it was at New York Comic Con and we hung out while he had a smoke and then his cab came and he turned and said ‘See you on down the road!’ and I thought sure as fuck I will Lance” Henriksen. The talent is stacked in this film but life is still cheap. Guns blaze and the light in several sets of eyes goes dim. It’s killing time all the time and if you don’t have a watch there’s always this giant clock to remind you to grab a good seat for the show.
Pat Hingle is perfect as a guy who looks like an Old West guy. Everybody in the cast looked perfect eating up all the shit Hackman was constantly giving them with looks on their faces to match the taste of self-loathing in their mouths. This movie was written as a tribute to all those great Westerns that had come before and with a serving of spaghetti on the side. Director Sam Raimi, blessed with a quirky sense of vision, played perfectly into this new bowl of pasta. Spiderman 3 might have been one colossal pile of crap but this flick was the shit. To say he soundly embraced the particulars of Cinema Italiano style would not be nearly vulgar enough so let me add that he rode every technique so hard and so well that every technique was screaming for more and for medical assistance at the same time. He must have left the set everyday covered from stem to stern with his delicious directorial drippings, a Rami remoulade on everyone’s lips including the livestock!
Now, Sam’s style is already heavy on the extreme closeups, fast to the point of unforgiving cuts, Dutch angles and moments of steady build followed by whiplash inducing freneticism but given free reign in Leone’s playground he manages to out do himself even to the point, regrettably, of over doing it. I love excess. Wine and women and toy robots, one can never have enough. Yet, by the end of this movie, I was filled to uncomfortably distracting with cowboy movie cliches. Like those “in your face” shots of faces for instance.
Oh yeah, here she goes! “The Lady” is gonna lay down some pain, you can see it in her eyes can’t you? Well if not, here’s another lingering shot! And just when you think she’s about to shoot, something like this happens:
Okay. Yep. I got it. Intensity and intrigue all rolled up into twenty-nine different looks at the same set of peepers. There’s sweating and staring and music crescendoing followed by more staring and then looking real hard and then that clock then back to staring but let’s not forget she’s looking at somebody right? Well what do his eyes look like? Show me Sam!
Wow, either the tension is building something fierce or I need to fart worse than I ever had in my entire life. And all before any gun even thinks about leaving a holster. Fuck sakes man. No! Not that goddamn clock again! But then there’s Pat Hingle so it’s okaaaaargghhhhh EYEBALLS! MIne and theirs! Now I’m getting nauseous and scared and
I can’t take it anymore, I’m freaking out! In the shower…I’m afraid to wash my hair, ’cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there! You’re only paranoid if they’re not watching you right?
Many of the action pieces, particularly near the end, are comparably ridiculous to what I have just made you sit through. Think for a moment of the faultless finale from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Now go strap on an Oculus Rift and drop some acid right after you attach live jumper cables to your taint. You would then have a small glimpse of how this film left me feeling. That bit of overzealous direction is my only gripe of any consequence with this film.
Aside from those ramshackle roller-coaster moments much of the film is wistfully quiet and beautiful.
It’s CGI sweetened sure, but I could tell what was going on so I knew I wasn’t watching Age of Extinction. Another clue that this wasn’t Age of Extinction? I was actually entertained.
Did I not mention that Russell Crowe’s in this one too? He is, but more importantly, so is the LeMat revolver.
Created for Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption this unique firearm was subsequently used in the American Civil War or so the internet tells me. You might dispute these facts but what you might not and certainly can’t dispute is the fact that having nine large caliber shots wrapped around a 20 gauge shotgun shell makes for one wicked weapon. The LeMat gets no love though because it was a Confederate sidearm and therefore racist. Anytime then one makes an appearance I’m pleased as pie. To spy one, albeit briefly, was an unexpected pleasure during this viewing.
And a decent view it was, 4 rounds for The Quick and The Dead starring Lex Luthor and a LeMat. Not as crisp or refined as many of it’s predecessors but by no means dreadful either. Tons of characters and even more carnage including the judicious use of every stick of dynamite in the territory makes this movie a sight to behold even if some of those sights are fast-slap flurries that can leave you a bit dizzy in the soul. A few minor hitches along the way but none enough to derail the whole narrative get-along. So get on out there and ride true amigos. It never hurts to look at life a little closer than is comfortable every now and then. You look close and the close looks back.
You learn something.
You get stronger.
Your adventure continues.