Brigands, cutthroats, firebrands, reprobates and scalawags have taken over this month’s Twilight Time release slate, and fans of historical chronicles, pirate tales, war sagas and Western legends can each reap their share of plundered movie bounties. Whether you opt to take your place alongside Tyrone Power as part of Hernán Cortés’ 16th-century Mexican campaign of conquest, Christopher Lee as a cold-blooded buccaneer captain wreaking havoc on a Caribbean island settlement, Michael Caine leading a World War II crew of British hard-cases on a North African desert suicide mission behind Nazi lines or sitting down at the saloon poker table with Jeff Bridges as one of the Wild West’s most colorful personalities, the action quotient is fierce and the adventure dial is ratcheted high. Preorders open today at 4 PM EDT/1 PM PDT for the October 17 TT hi-def Blu-ray arrivals of Captain from Castile (1947), The Pirates of Blood River (1962), Play Dirty (1968) and Wild Bill (1995). Load up at www.screenarchives.com and www.twilighttimemovies.com.
If a sense of tarnished heroism and soiled grandeur permeates the above-named new-on-Blu quartet, a palette cleanser or, more precisely, an acid blowout of disreputable characters in a down-and-dirty outpost setting awaits adventurous film fans visiting the dusty nowhere Southwestern burg of Superior in director Oliver Stone’s rip-roaring, deliriously trippy neo-noir U Turn (1997), which opened 20 years ago yesterday with a cast to die for (Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Jon Voight, Billy Bob Thornton, Julie Hagerty, Bo Hopkins, Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, Laurie Metcalfe and Liv Tyler), style to burn and a feast of unsavory characters reveling in their amoral weirdness. This adaptation of his own novel by John Ridley (later the creator of the acclaimed TV series American Crime and the Academy Award®-winning adaptor of 12 Years a Slave) novel variously proved scathingly funny, provocatively lurid and consequently divisive among critics and audiences, despite the visual flourishes of cinematographer (and JFK and There Will Be Blood Oscar® winner) Robert Richardson and the woozy musical bravado of the masterful (and future The Hateful Eight Oscar® winner) Ennio Morricone. However, Penn’s petty grifter lead character isn’t that far removed from the uncharted territory-exploring antiheroes of TT’s four-film array, only more scuzzy. As Slant reviewer Chuck Bowen notes: “U Turn is a ruthless dark comedy, a blend of Detour and After Hours that follows a noir schmuck who makes the mistake of believing himself to be smarter than the few citizens of an Arizona ghost town (culturally stuck somewhere in the 1950s), who waste no time in destroying him. Stone, Penn, and the remainder of the high-profile cast…are not usually known for their senses of humor, but they’re canny enough to render the film’s comic tone as a knowing gloss on their relentlessly heavy sensibilities. The stifling monotony of the covetously macho atmosphere is the center of most of the gags. Stone springs a number of gorgeous, diamond-hard set pieces, particularly a conversation inside of a car between Bobby and Nolte’s big-daddy character that beautifully escalates through Stone’s then-characteristic use of quick cuts, which evolve into an extreme and wobbly slideshow procession of close-ups that are interspersed with shards of visual incident that stand for the id of the character in question. But fatigue eventually sets in, for Stone as well as the audience, and the film collapses into a redundant sonata of attractive carnage. Yet, it’s a mistake to chastise Stone for this excessiveness, because it’s this creatively fallow land that yields the highs of the most startling sequences of the director’s career, both here and in other films of this period. U Turn might only be half a movie, but that half is fuller than many whole films.” From this assortment of five movies spanning 50 years and different genres, we learn there’s little glory in war, the rewards of self-enriching plunder and legend-spinning carnage are transitory, and that when interlopers charge into places they’re not welcome, they should expect blowback from the natives. Keep your wits about you when exploring U Turn on a sinfully scintillating TT disc.