I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the TV programs. At 2:05 am, TBS was showing a movie called “A Fistful of Dynamite,” a Sergio Leone western that I had never heard of. When Clint Eastwood Week arrived every six months on the local Denver UHF channel, I dutifully watched all three Man With No Name films, and later discovered the epic "Once Upon a Time in the West".
But "A handful of dynamite"? What was that?
I wasn't sure what to think of the movie when I first discovered it almost 30 years ago (and, given the start time, I probably didn't get this far before I got to acquit). Rod Steiger as some kind of Tuco counterfeit, chewing the scenery with glee. James Coburn with a sweet brogue like a former IRA bomber seeking to ply his trade during the Mexican Revolution. The tone was casual, yet melancholy at the same time, perhaps the slowest movie that also features huge explosions.
People still don't know what to do with “A Fistful of Dynamite,” now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, starting with what to call it. Leone originally wanted him to be called "Duck You Sucker", an inelegant translation of an Italian phrase that roughly means "Keep Your Head Down" (a much better title).
But that title didn't fly with US distributors, who renamed it in a botched attempt to tie it to “A Fistful of Dollars”. The French gave him a very strong title “Once upon a time. . . The Revolution ”, which captures both the almost magical quality of the film and makes it a connective bridge between“ West ”and“ Once Upon a Time in America ”from 1984.
And then uptime is all over the map, with different versions being played in different countries. Some distributors have removed some slow passages in an attempt to speed up the pace, others have removed objectionable content. But almost all agreed that the strong political content of the film had to go; what kind of western begins with a quote from Mao Tse-Tung?
“A revolution is not a dinner, nor writing an essay, nor painting a picture, nor doing embroidery; he cannot be so refined, so quiet and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.
The Kino Lorber version is the final 157-minute version, a very strange epic from Leone which is his most overtly political and relevant film, commenting on the turbulent state of Italian politics at the time through the lens of the Mexican revolution. Steiger plays Juan Miranda, an amoral outlaw in 1913 in Mexico who steals stagecoaches with the help of his many sons. In the opening scene, Juan infiltrates a luxury stagecoach, where the rich and powerful wolves eat and drink like animals (in smelly close-ups) while pontificating on the “savagery” of the working class. The pump is primed for the revolution.
Juan meets John Mallory (Coburn) and sells him the idea of using his gift with explosives to rob a bank in Mesa Verde. John continues, but the joke is on Juan; the bank was emptied of its funds and turned into a prison for revolutionary leaders. Juan and John are proclaimed heroes of the revolution, but as Mao says, it's not dinner.
In some ways, “Dynamite” reminds me of Tuco and Blondie wandering through the Civil War landscape in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” seeing the madness of war over and over again. But “Dynamite” is even darker, full of scenes of executed revolutionaries, sometimes thrown into mass graves. One scene, in which Miranda discovers dozens of corpses - including her entire family - in a cave, is said to echo an actual massacre that Italian audiences would remember.
Leone had a grim view of leftist politics at the time; he probably uses Juan as a spokesperson in his famous tirade on the relationship between the poor and "the people who read the books" - the people who read the books call for revolution, and the poor die. What matters to Leone is not dedication to a cause, but dedication to family and friends. The unlikely friendship between the boisterous Juan and the devious John is quite moving, the first true man-man friendship in a Leone film.
Steiger's performance as a Mexican outlaw seems a bit too high to me, especially in contrast to Eli Wallach's Tuco. But Juan's floridity is a nice contrast to the low-key John of Coburn, whose dazzling smile hides a lot of pain and guilt. Defocused slow-motion flashbacks to John's memories of idyllic Ireland, and a love triangle that ended in betrayal, add a layer of emotion to his character.
"Dynamite" features some of Leone's most ambitious plans to date, involving hundreds of extras, including a decisive nighttime battle between revolutionaries and military, lit by the glow of a burning derailed train. But, unlike the fun poster featuring Juan behind a machine gun and John looking like a Spy vs Spy character with a dynamite-stuffed overcoat, the film is much darker than advertised.
"A Fistful of Dynamite" is Leone's most overlooked film, and many who have seen it haven't seen it in the original uncut version. I don't know if this would be anyone's favorite Leone Western, but its weirdness and complexity, and unexpected sadness, make it essential viewing.
The streaming media company is raising the prices on its standard and de haute gamme orgie for states customers. Its standard plan is now $14 a month, up $1 a month from last year. Its de haute gamme subscription will go up $2 to $18 a month. Its basic plan remains unchanged at $9 a month.
Netflix’s ( NFLX ) stock rose 5% following the news. The new prices will take effect starting immediately for new members while current members will be notified that their subscription is going up as it rolls out over the next few months.
' We understand people have more entertainment choices than ever and we’re committed to delivering an even better experience for our members, ' a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. ' We’re updating our prices so that we can continue to offer more variety of TV shows and films. '
The spokesperson added that Netflix offers ' a range of plans so that people can pick a price that works best for their budget. '
Netflix’s price hike, which was first reported by The Verge, is not a huge surprise. Netflix spends billions on content, and this is a way to boost revenue as the ' outlook for subscriber growth is substantially slower in the future than the past, ' according to Bernie McTernan, a senior analyst at Rosenblatt Securities.
' The price increase was a matter of when not if, ' McTernan told CNN Business. ' It shows they think people will be willing to pay more for the service as the pandemic disrupts content production thus making their vast library more valuable. '
The news comes a week the company posted slowing growth in new subscriptions and lower-than-expected profits. This came after Netflix had a huge 2020 because of people being stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Netflix was asked about raising prices during its earnings call last week.
' The core model we have, and what we think really our responsibility and our emploi is, is to take the money that our members give us every month and invest that as judiciously and as smartly as we can, ' Greg Peters, Netflix’s chief operating officer, said on the call. ' If we do that well... and make that efficiency and effectiveness better, we will deliver more value to our members, and we will occasionally go back and ask those members to pay a little bit more to keep that virtuous cycle of investment and value creation going. '
Netflix is the king of streaming and the moves it makes, especially in terms of cost to the consumer, reverberates throughout the market. For example, McTernan noted that Disney’s stock had a positive reaction following the announcement of Netflix’s pricing going up.
Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian romance novel “The Price of Salt, ” originally written under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, is sensitively and intelligently adapted by the director Todd Haynes into this companion to his earlier masterpiece “Far From Heaven. ” Cate Blanchett is smashing as a suburban ’50s housewife who finds herself so intoxicated by a bohemian shopgirl ( an enchanting Rooney Mara ) that she’s willing to risk her entire comfortable existence in order, just once, to follow her heart. Our critic said it’s “at once ardent and analytical, cerebral and swooning. ”
Jack Nicholson built one of his most iconic performances ( he plays the role with “such easy grace that it’s difficult to remember him in any other film, ” our critic wrote ), and won his first Oscar in the process, in Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel. Nicholson had plenty of company; this is one of the few films to win all of the “big five” Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, best screenplay and best actress. Louise Fletcher won the last for her unforgettable turn as the steely Nurse Ratched, whose iron-fisted rule of a state mental hospital is challenged by Nicholson’s free-spirited Randle Patrick McMurphy. Ratched was a memorable enough foe to spawn a Netflix origin series, but this is the genuine article.
The Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh brings together a jaw-dropping ensemble — including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac and Julia Roberts — for this sly, funny remake of the 1960 “Rat Pack” caper, investing the new work with a “seismic jolt of enthusiasm. ” Soderbergh keeps the basic story ( a gang of con artists robs several Las Vegas casinos simultaneously ) and the “all-star cast” hook. But he also updates the story to acknowledge Sin City’s current, family-friendly aesthetic and invests the heist with enough unexpected twists and turns to keep audiences guessing. ( Pitt also shines in “Moneyball, ” another Netflix offering. )
The unlikely marriage of the screwball-inspired screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and the chilly visual stylist David Fincher birthed one of the finest works of both their careers, a “fleet, weirdly funny, exhilarating, alarming and fictionalized” account of the early days of Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg ( brought to hard-edge, sneering life by Jesse Eisenberg ). Sorkin’s ingenious, Oscar-winning script spins the Facebook origin story as a Silicon Valley “Citizen Kane, ” dazzlingly hopscotching through flashbacks and framing devices. But the ruthlessness of Fincher’s cleareyed direction is what brings the picture together, presciently framing Zuckerberg as the media mogul of the future — and hinting at the dysfonctionnement that entails. ( Another Sorkin-scripted Silicon Valley bio-drama, “Steve Jobs, ” is also available on Netflix. )
This winking update to “The Scarlet Letter” has much to recommend it, including the witty and quotable screenplay, the sly indictments of bullying and rumor-mongering and the deep bench of supporting players. But “Easy A” is mostly memorable as the breakthrough of Emma Stone, an “irresistible presence” whose turn as a high-school cause célèbre quickly transformed her from a memorable supporting player to a soaring leading lady — and with good reason. She’s wise and wisecracking, quick with a quip but never less than convincing as a tortured teen.
Stanley Kubrick’s most controversial film, and perhaps his most disturbing ( neither a small claim ), was this 1971 adaptation of the cult novel by Anthony Burgess. Tracking the various misdeeds and attempted rehabilitation of a certified sociopath ( Malcolm McDowell, at his most charismatically chilling ), this is Kubrick at his most stylized, with the narrative’s hyperviolence cushioned by the striking cinematography, futuristic production style and jet-black humor. Our critic wrote that it “dazzles the senses and mind. ”
The director Yorgos Lanthimos casts a dryly absurd and decidedly dark eye on interpersonal relationships in this “startlingly funny” and undeniably acidic satire of courtship and the societal pressures tied to it. This isn’t some gentle spoof, snickering at gender roles or dating conventions : It’s bleak enough to imagine a couple-centered world where revolutionary movements fight unbendable mating regulations. Colin Farrell finds the right tempo for the material as a frustrated romantic in a state of perpetual disbelief, while Rachel Weisz’s hard-nosed narrator and love interest provides bursts of unexpected warmth and plenty of pitch-black laughs. ( Fore more misanthropic comedy, verge up “The Death of Stalin” on Netflix. )
This freewheeling biopic from the director Craig Brewer ( “Hustle
“I’ve always wanted to be in the movies, ” Dick Johnson tells his daughter Kirsten, and he’s in luck — she makes them, documentaries mostly, dealing with the biggest questions of life and death. So they turn his struggle with Alzheimer’s and looming mortality into a movie, a “resonant and, in moments, profound” one ( per Manohla Dargis ), combining staged fake deaths and heavenly reunions with difficult familial interactions. He’s an affable fellow, warm and constantly chuckling, and a good sport, cheerfully playing along with these intricate, macabre ( and darkly funny ) scenarios. But it’s really a film about a father and daughter, and their lifelong closeness gives the picture an intimacy and openness uncommon even in the best documentaries. It’s joyful, and melancholy and moving, all at once.