Sex, Leins & Videotape #46. Paignton film critic Tom Leins scrutinises this week’s most violent DVD releases!
Set amongst Hamburg’s grim tower-blocks, Chiko (Vertigo Films) is a brisk, brutal gangster thriller that explores the collective ambitions of a group of Turkish immigrants -desperate to trade-in the ghettos for the high-life.
Naturally, their ‘get rich quick’ scheme involves seizing control of the local drug trade -a feat which necessitates winning the trust of Brownie, the suave kingpin who dominates Hamburg’s underworld. Chiko quickly proves himself to be loyal and resourceful, but his best friend Tibet angers Brownie with his duplicitous actions and the kingpin takes violent retribution against the naÃ¯ve youngster. From then on, Chiko is torn between avenging his friend and rising through the ranks -a quandary which tests his ruthlessness to the limits
Chiko dispenses with the pleasantries and drops you straight into the film’s sordid world, barely pausing for breath as it gains momentum. The treacherous narrative is shifty and compelling, and there is a healthy dose of violent nastiness to keep the energy up. The Scarface comparisons are irresistible, and Chiko’s ascension to power mirrors Tony Montana’s journey from lowly Cuban immigrant to top-dog of the Miami underworld.
The well-worn narrative trajectory will hold few surprises for gangster movie aficionados, but the cast’s enthusiasm is palpable throughout, and the constant visual references to other movies (everything from Taxi Driver to Snatch) seems totally in keeping with the respective characters’ movie-inspired gangster ambitions. A small but perfectly formed treat.
Johnnie To, who achieved widespread plaudits with Hong Kong crime thrillers like Election and Exiled is back -quite literally -with a vengeance! Vengeance (Optimum) marks the director’s first forage into English-language filmmaking -although that description is slightly misleading, as Vengeance features a French leading man and a Chinese supporting cast. Recently-retired French crooner Johnny Hallyday (a man widely considered to be France’s answer to Elvis Presley) stars as Francois Costello, an assassin-turned-chef who journeys to Hong Kong to seek revenge against the men who slaughtered his daughter’s family. After a chance encounter with a posse of local hit-men, Costello persuades the locals to help him track down the murderers, and achieve ‘vengeance’.
After an engaging opening, Vengeance lurches in a strange new direction, when Costello announces that he has a bullet lodged in his brain, and is suffering from the gradual onset of amnesia. With his mental faculties waning, Costello becomes increasingly reliant on the assistance of his new friends, who try to aid his memory by taking photos to document their ongoing quest. Unsurprisingly, the amnesiac angle feels like a pale imitation of Memento, and the slick shootouts present the uneven film’s highlights. Despite some nice touches, the fact that everyone is speaking in their second language means that the dialogue is unavoidably stilted throughout, and the film never really gels together. All in all: slightly dodgy, but undeniably intriguing.
Comprising of Django (1966), A Bullet For The General (1966) and Keoma (1976), Cult Spaghetti Westerns (Argent Films) is a lovingly-restored triple-threat of a box-set!
The awesome Django is the clear highlight, and Sergio Corbucci’s groundbreaking western remains a potent slice of cowboy violence. Django is a violent drifter who trudges into town dragging a coffin behind him. Despite his unassuming appearance, Django is a man with a plan, and he begins to play the Mexican soldiers off against the sinister local crime syndicate, with predictably bloody results! Notorious for its viciousness (it was banned in Britain until the 90s) Django still seems ahead of its time, and its raw power hasn’t been dimmed with age.
Next in line is the stately, elegant A Bullet For The General -presented here in its longest ever format. The movie follows the exploits of Tate (Lou Castel), a suave Gringo who persuades a posse of heavily-armed revolutionaries to allow him to join them after a blood-soaked train robbery. Inevitably, Tate has an ulterior motive, and he is only using the revolutionaries to get close to their leader -General Elias -so that he can carry out his murderous orders. After the visceral immediacy of Django, A Bullet For The General feels slightly long-winded, but it remains a hugely impressive piece of work, even if it is sometimes easier to admire to enjoy
One of the last key movies of the Spaghetti Western period, Keoma is directed by Enzo G Castellari, the B-movie legend responsible for the original Inglorious Bastards movie and The Bronx Warriors series. (Box-set reviewed here last year.) Arguably the oddest offering of the bunch, Keoma is off-kilter but frequently inspired and reaffirms Castellari’s unusual imagination.
As well as an assortment of interviews with the key-players, each disc also features a specially-recorded introduction courtesy of cult director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy) whose enthusiasm for the subject is genuinely infectious. Although the additional movies are undeniably an acquired taste, Django is worth the price of admission alone, and remains an essential offering from the Spaghetti Western period.