Red Sun Review

July 15, 2011

Think fast! What’s a film that has Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune and Alain Delon together duking it out? Doesn’t exit right? Incorrect foo’!

Le Samourai vs. Death Wish vs. Yojimbo

Believe it or not, this film exists! The French call it, Soleil rouge but I know it best as Red Sun which I was lucky enough to catch at 16 mm print. Did I mention it’s a Euro western with Samurais? Why isn’t this film more of a cult item?

The samurais and cowboys plot isn’t as wacky as you’d initially think. It involves Link (Charles Bronson) and Gauche (Alain Delon) are robbers that attack a train which happens to be taking the ambassador of Japan over to Washington. During the robbery, Gauche steals a gold sword which was intended as a gift from the emperor to the president. Gauche even crosses Link by trying to kill him in order to take the money all for himself. The only survivor of the sword theft is the samurai Kuroda (Toshirô Mifune) who teams up with Link to find Gauche. Gauche isn’t keen on the idea (classic moment where Bronson states that Mifune looks like he’s wearing a dress) but the two travel together so that Kuroda can take back the sword while Link just wants his share of the money.

Red Sun was directed by Terence Young who I brought up in my Thunderball review. From what I’ve seen of Young I find him to be a decent director who can give a film good pacing, even if its lacking in emitting any really exciting or memorable moments. With that, Young makes Red Sun, enjoyable but a bit muffled. Problems arise with the villain, as Bronson and Mifune team up to chase down Delon, I found it hard to get really into their crusade as Delon’s character Gauche is not a villain who I felt strongly against enough. Sure he took the gold and ran off but so what? He takes off midway through the picture so your blood never really boils over his villainous deeds. Towards the end of the film, Delon even stops becoming the main villain as some very cliche Indians storm the fields and begin attacking the four (did I forget to mention that Ursula Andress is in this?). This attack does lead to the most exciting scene in the film however, involving a fire in a tall grass where Delon, Mifune, Bronson (and even Andress with a shotgun!) begin to take out Indians as flames begin to surround them. Good stuff!

As Andress and Delon vanish for a large chunk of the film, the rest mostly involves Mifune and and Bronson. If you autmatically like these guys like me then you’ll enjoy seeing them on screen side-by-side. Most of their interactions are mildly amusing despite it being the typical “we-are-different-but-I-am-slowly-learning-to-understand-you” plot that we’ve all seen a dozen times. It seems to remind me of another East meets West films from years back…

Rush Hour Red Sun poster
Without the Gauche plot, it’s just Rush Hour!

I’ll stick with Red Sun over this though! There’s not a whole lot of background on the films of Terrence Young outside of the Bond series, let alone Red Sun in particular. It received generally negative reviews on it’s release with critics saying that Mifune and Bronson were too old to be playing these kind of roles (Alain Delon is quite a bit younger than both of them) and that the film was just stupid. I disagree with these blanket statements as nowadays, it’s a trip to see these actors and will definitely satisfy your Cowboys and Samurais fix. I wonder how Mifune felt about the film, as after it’s completion he took four year break from acting. What was he up doing?

Red Sun is not an overlty great film but despite it’s cast, I don’t think it has a big enough cult following. If the cast alone peaks your interest then this is worth seeking out. If not, there’s still worse Terrence Young films out there. Ever tried watching Inchon?


Thunderball Blu-ray Review

April 29, 2011

Hover over this image for immense joy.

Time to take a last minute advantage of a blogalong deal with The Incredible Suit’s attempt at world blog domination. Want more details? Read about it here. (Warning: It’s in British English which I assume is slightly different and therefore inferior to my Canadian English). I sadly missed out on all opportunities to blog about the first three films which are sometimes known amongst fans as “the good ones” but I still want to take a shot at reviewing a Bond flick. So I’m stuck watching the two-hour-plus of Thunderball.

On paper, Thunderball should’ve been a lot better. It was directed Terence Young who directed Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Young’s not really a name spoken to often outside the Bond fan base, but he also made the great 1960s thriller Wait Until Dark and a film I haven’t seen called Soleil rouge that has the strange cast of Alain Delon, Ursula Andress, Toshirô Mifune, and Charles Bronson. It looks pretty bad, but that’s what I expect from a film where samurai’s fight euro-cowboys.

Outside having a good Bond director, we have other goodies to boast the appeal of the film. Thunderball had the highest budget of any Bond film to this point and was the first one shot at 2.35:1. This film is mint looking on blu and you can really appreciate the details of these sets since the image is an obvious step up from any other format this film’s been released on. I could watch the introductory scene of the attractive anonymous ladies swooshing around to the sound of Mr. Tom Jones on repeat for a good while. If you don’t care for Tom Jones, consider yourself lucky you didn’t get that other Bond theme made for Thunderball. Country singer Johnny Cash did his own Thunderball theme which was released on a few compilation albums and not used for the film. Works for me as the song would be more appropriate for some sort of underwater-western.

Johnny Cash sings Thunderball. Bizarre.

The Blu-ray is an easy recommendation if you love yourself some Thunderball. The Blu-ray contains all the bonus features from the 2006 Ultimate Edition disc and still has the confusingly titled menus called “minisitry of propaganda” and “007 mission control” so good luck finding what you are looking for. Cause, y’know, that three-second TV advert for the film on the disc will change your life I’m sure.

As for the film itself, it does feel like a drop in quality compared to Bond’s previous missions. The James Bond films at this point were still popular (Thunderball was the highest grossing Bond film and praised by critics in both the UK and US on it’s initial release), but I feel that a few decades later that the film is only good for a few selected moments and gets tiresome in the middle section. The good bits in the film for me are the action scenes and some of the underused cheesy spy gadgets.

Despite how they are edited and sped-up, I like the action scenes such as the first prop-oriented fight scene involving Bond dropping entire shelves on a knife-wielding cross-dressing villain. I even love the back-stretcher scene which never fails to bring a smile to my face in it’s utter goofiness. I don’t know why they would create a device like this that can be set at lethal speeds, but I don’t really question much that happens in the Bond universe. If Bond wants to escape five feet away in a Jet Pack than that’s fine by me, too bad the rest of the movie is set underwater. Some of the gadgets that Bond gets from Q are boring as they aren’t flashy are there to just fill potential plot-holes. No one cares that Bond is popping pills so he can be tracked later on or that he has a camera that can take pictures of the Disco Volante underwater. BORING.

Summary of Gadgets in Thunderball
Fig 1: How to spot gadget quality in Thunderball

For the plot, the film begins to feel like a chore around the time the Avro Vulcan is hijacked and sinks in the water. It leads to a series of pretty tedious and episodic events that don’t advance the plot a great deal. It’s great that we get to see Domino in her black-and-white bikini and it’s fun to see Bond tossed in a pool full of live sharks, but do we have to sit through the rest of the plodding story to get to these parts? The rest of the underwater scenes go on for an eternity. Were they ever interesting? Even technically? You can get all these Connery-based spy scenes done better and just as many attractive Bond girls without these water scenes in the earlier films and without all the filler.

I’m not the first person to trash the underwater scenes, but I am someone who is actually fond of the final scene involving various spear-men attacking each other underwater. This scene is a surprisingly violent, involving lots of kills within the seven minutes. Being underwater also stops the amount of puns that Bond must be aching to deliver as he’s killing the SPECTRE agents off one by one. I like this scene, but I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea as it’s a bit chaotic. Terence Young didn’t like this scene either. He didn’t even like the whole film.

James Bond Terrence Young

Not a great sign when the creator himself is trashing the film. If you didn’t like the earlier Bond films, than Thunderball will not change your mind. If you are someone who is willing to get up and do laundry or something in the middle part than you won’t miss too much and can find Thunderball to be a moderately enjoyable piece of sixties spy cinema. You can do much worse in the Bond series. How much worse? Check back in a few months when I get around to reviewing Never Say Never Again.

Sources: 1 | 2