Sunday 25 September 2016

The Crappificent Seven *)

Years ago I made a list of Top Westerns movies. Well, now here I have some of the less inspiring western films I've seen.

Some words of warning: There are worse films. These are at least watchable in some way. Yet I hasten to say that for the most part these are not "so bad it's funny good". What do I mean with "watchable?" For example, Blazing Stewardesses (1975) is much worse than anything on this list because I could not bring myself to watch it to the end.

Ok, that's enough, here's the list:

Captain Apache (1971)

A singing Lee Van Cleef in a crappy British faux-spaghetti western. Also, tiresomely brutal and corrupt Mexican revolutionaries etc. What is the mystery of "April Morning"? Ooh, aren't you just dying to know! (Hint: In the end it doesn't even matter)

White Comanche (1968)

As Clint Eastwood ascended from a TV career via European westerns, many were undoubtedly seeking to repeat this success. Here, William Shatner plays two roles in this stupid western made in the heels of better productions. I know what you're thinking, but no, although some laughs can be had here, for the most part it is a dull affair.

But WHICH of them died? Eh? Eh?
Consider two identical half-breed twins, one who lived with the white people and the one with the native Americans.  Does a thoughtful essay on nature and nurture ensue? Well, apparently nature does not so much abhor a vacuum, but redundancy, so a duel inevitably ensues between the two forces. This calls for an ancient Apache ritual... A joust on horseback, with revolvers.

(Trivia: Leonard Nimoy played a western villain in a slightly better film Catlow.)

Lucky Luke (1991 / 2009)

Lucky Luke is such a household name that for a certain generation of Europeans the whole idea of a western is tinted with the humor and caricatures of the Morris and Goscinny comic strip. It's a bit sad that the concept did not result in any good live action films. (Except maybe the Terence Hill flick Man from the East, a rip-off of the LL story The Tenderfoot)

The first tries to translate pick'n'mix elements from the comic book too directly to the screen, whereas the 2009 version attempts to cram every possible meta-reference about Lucky Luke and western cinema into one film. Luke is also given a totally unsuitable tragic "origin story" and the makers tried very hard to be post-modern. They succeeded.

I think it's pretty safe to say that Les Daltons from 2004 is not too good either, but I've not seen it (yet). Edit: I have seen it – it's not too good.

Trinity and Sartana (1972)

As a rule of thumb a prolonged "barfight scene" is a good indicator of a poor-mediocre western (as opposed to just some minor violent exchange in the saloon). Well, this film climaxes with a ten minute bar fight scene at the end, and man, isn't it comedic.

Trinity and Sartana were well established names in their own official and unofficial movies, here the names are exploited for something that has nothing to do with either. Trinity is really "Trinidad", while Sartana, who looks more like actual Trinity, does some acrobatic tricks.

Apache Blood (1975)

Frankly I can recollect almost nothing about this borefest with poor editing and disjointed scenes. On second thoughts, I might have been watching Andy Warhol's Lonesome Cowboys. 

Yes, it's bad to the point I was wondering if it was really supposed to be an art film.

Django's Cut Price Corpses (1971)

Aka. A Pistol for Django.

Well, it might be said that as a rule of thumb any unofficial "Django" movie that isn't the original Django, Django Kill! or Django Unchained, could compete for inclusion in a list of bad westerns. I wouldn't go so far, as some "Djangos" are quite reasonable. This one's pretty stupid, though.

There's a guy who does not look or behave like Django at all, the plotline is quite incompatible with anything we know about Django, and overall it doesn't make much sense. The twist ending makes the Django-premise even less credible. (It's of the "he planned it all beforehand" variety)

Left: From the bottom of the barrel, Right: Poetic justice.
There's a group of Mexican brothers and one sister (no great spoiler there, it's very apparent she's a woman) who all seem to be inadequate at accomplishing anything. Notably the film has quite many woman characters for a western, but this simply means a lot of women getting slapped on the face or otherwise mistreated.

Tex and the Lord of the Deep (1985)

The idea of western characters encountering an ancient pre-columbian mystery is not that bad, but nothing good comes out of it here.

I've always considered Tex Willer to be dry reading, but here the filmmakers have really been able to expand on that quality: there's a lot of time-wasting and all the sets are very lackluster. The same lethargic tune seems to play throughout, and any craftsmanship that made Italian westerns interesting seems to have been forgotten.

Only the guy dying from the super-poison is a relatively interesting special effect, and spaghetti-veteran William Berger makes a passable Kit Carson, not that the role involves much more than having a beard.

Dead Men Don't Make Shadows (1970)

Also known as The Stranger that Kneels Beside the Shadow of a Corpse.

Demofilo Fidani is sometimes regarded as the Ed Wood of Spaghetti Westerns, so I'm saying nothing new here. To be fair, there are some nice scenes and the consistently low-budget surroundings even helps lend an aura of originality. Yet with Fidani the general editing and cinematic storytelling is rather abysmal, and instead of having artistic merit they tend to evoke a feeling of "what the hell did I just watch?".

In some mysterious way person grows wiser through watching Fidani westerns, so perhaps they are not all bad.

Hey, it can look interesting occasionally. But the main character there, is almost as expressive as he gets.
Here, the first 10 minutes of initial happenings all look and sound like the title scene: some guy rides in the wilderness, and then arrives at a western town, accompanied with dull background music. Dramatic zooms into Wanted-posters abound.

Django and Sartana are coming... It's the End (1970)

(It's "Django Defies Sartana" in my box set, a whole different film holds that title.)

Another Fidani film. Let's cap this up in some more detail:

Fidani's trademark seems to be long, wandering sequences that clearly explicate how the hero travels through the landscape, riding on horseback. In a striking contrast to this meticulous attention to detail, it's nigh on impossible to get any clarity on who's actually travelling and where to.

A woman gets kidnapped. The ranch hands, almost a full minute into the attack, are still carrying barrels and baskets when they are cruelly shot down.

When the ransom note appears on the door, the voiceover reads it, including the signature followed with a laughter. "...Burt Kelly. Brahahaha!"

Well, moments after, both Sartana and Django seem to be after the kidnapper. After meeting a frog and an old shivering man in a ghost town.

Dramatic zooms into Wanted-posters abound.

The villain is clearly insane, as they tend to be in Italian westerns. (He lives in a kind of a tepee inside his house.) His shtick is playing cards in front of the mirror, and the joke is that the mirror image "cheats".

Also, the villains, although they have no reason at all to spare Django's or Sartana's life, never kill them when they might have the opportunity.

In the shootout at the end, for the most part the villains proactively make enormous leaps just before they are shot, in order to fall spectacularly for no particular reason.

One Damned Day at Dawn... Django meets Sartana from the same director is also a contender.

Terror of Tiny Town (1938)

You'd be forgiven for thinking that a Western film populated entirely with midgets would be hilariously non-PC and camp, but in fact it is endlessly boring. The camera scans the little people on eye-level anyway, and the sets are mostly built to scale, so the impression of their smallness diminishes and what the viewer is left with is - and I must apologize - some malformed cowboys.

White Fang and the Hunter (1975)

This is the sequel n to the White Fang films, which I suppose have some tenuous connection to Jack London books.

Just some Joseph looking for a manger... It's not there
The titular dog gets little screen time in this film. Mostly we are subjected to the antics of a venerated spaghetti sidekick Ignazio Spalla, who plays a drunken old fart. The joke is that he drinks a lot of booze, and that's the joke. He usually responds to everything with a "blaarh", or "arrr..?" with pouted lips and a surprised look on his face. Then he marries an indian old maid and they both get drunk, rolling around in a snowy dirt ditch. Then railroad something-something, forced marriage, fake priest, a bar fight, the end.

The Outlaw (1943)

Some seem to think this is a reasonable movie, so I may be in the wrong here. The film depicts an unlikely meeting between Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. They are so removed from any historical (or legendary) depictions of them, sometimes I feel these are just three guys who happen to have those names by accident.

Some unintentional surrealism and absurd scenes here and there seem to portend more unconventional westerns to come, but I just can't care at all.

I guess the film was considered somewhat daring or even "naughty" in it's time, and echoes of this reputation may have made the film more well-known than it deserves to be. Jane Russell is hardly as "prominent" in the film as in the posters & promo stills.

It Can be Done Amigo (1972)

Somewhere in El Crapo, Texas... A cute idea: Jack Palance tries to force-wed his pregnant sister (or whatever, can't remember) to Bud Spencer, who does not fancy her at all. And when Bud Spencer does not get along with someone, you know what he can be like.

Two actors relying on heavy mannerisms can't quite carry it through. Spencer frowns and head-butts his way through the movie, whereas Palance mostly lies down, seemingly recovering from a hangover or something worse.

The pinnacle of jokes is the end where Spencer apparently finally beats up the woman. Ha, ha.

I have a pretty big soft spot for Bud Spencer movies, may he Rest in Peace, but here, no.

Bonus: Frisco Kid (1979)

It's one thing to point out failures in small productions, and perhaps not too fair either. But when a large cinematic production goes awry, it's a different order altogether. Using this metric, Frisco Kid might be the worst western film ever.

Again, it's not a bad idea, a Jewish Rabbi traveling through the old west. However, two hours are wasted in prolonged sketches and vignettes, possibly aiming at some kind of muted, subtle humor.

Sad to see Gene Wilder (Rest in Peace him too), who did a good job in Young Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, plod through this useless material.

*) Yes there are more than seven

Friday 16 September 2016

Y NO Z80+editable chars?

Mode Z80 Non-Z80 (6502, 6800)
Memory Mapped
Character Display
Enterprise, Sharp MZ series, Aquarius, Laser 200 VIC-20, C64, Panasonic JR200, Atari 8-bit, Commodore Plus/4, Oric Atmos
Memory Mapped
Character Set
Enterprise, Sharp MZ-800(?) VIC-20, C64, Panasonic JR200, Atari 8-bit, Commodore Plus/4, Oric Atmos
Memory Mapped
Bitmap Mode
Enterprise, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad, ZX81, SAM Coupé, Sharp MZ VIC-20, C64, Panasonic JR200, Atari 8-bit,, Commodore Plus/4, Oric Atmos
VDP MSX 1/2, Sega SC-3000, Coleco Adam, Memotech MTX, Tatung Einstein

Character displays proved to be very effective for 8-bit computers. Intuitive to program, less wasteful of memory and with high potential for optimizing graphics for your chosen approach.
loop:INC $0400,X;INC $0500,X;INC $0600,X;INC $0700,X;INX;JMP loop
What the above table highlights is that there seem to be very few computers combining the Z80 processor with a memory mapped character display with editable character set. I've only heard that Enterprise, the swansong of the 8-bit era, might have such modes. Sharp MZ-800 has something called the Programmable Character Generator, which I think does the trick too. I'm pretty sure that another latecomer, SAM CoupĂ©, does not have a true text mode. The point is that none of the popular Z80 computers had the feature.

Some websites list Sinclair-style pseudo-text bitmap modes as "text modes" too, so it can be confusing. The accurate distinction between pseudo-text, fixed character set modes and fully editable character set modes is not made often enough.

Why were there so few Z80-based memory mapped character graphics? Surely, if the 6502 can whizz user-defined characters around the screen, the Z80 could whizz considerably more?

I don't know. Maybe the engineers thought the Z80 was in any case powerful enough to handle bitmap graphics (a very marketable feature back then). Or, there may be some bus-architectural reason why combining Z80 with a sophisticated character display would be difficult or result in something that brings complications for the programmer or additional contentions with the other chips. I'm especially wondering this as there are Z80-computers with a char display (Aquarius, Sharp series, Laser) but without editable characters. A full 256-character set would have eaten 2K of RAM though.

In the table I've also included some VDP-based computers. It was close to being a standard solution and one can suppose at some point it was easier to design a Z80+VDP computer than start creating new video chips. There seem to be no 6502+VDP computers either, which might have been a poor combo.