• Keoma (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: April 23rd, 2019.
    Director: Enzo G. Castellari
    Cast: Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Orso Maria Guerrini, Gabriella Giacobbe, Woody Strode
    Year: 1976
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    Keoma – Movie Review:

    The great Enzo Castellari, he of Inglorious Bastards and The New Barbarians fame (among plenty of other films from the heyday of Italian genre movies) directed Keoma in 1976. Franco Nero stars as a ‘half-breed’ named Keoma – part Native American Indian and part Caucasian. After serving through the Civil War, he returns to his now plague infested hometown only to find that a former Confederate soldier named Caldwell (Donald O’Brien) and his gang of mercenaries are ruling it with an iron fist and exploiting the population.

    Normally this would be enough to anger any man, but when Keoma finds out that his three half-brothers - Butch (Orso Maria Guerrini), Sam (Joshua Sinclair), and Lenny (Antonio Marsina) - have teamed with Caldwell and are part of his gang, he’s livid. Of course, they’re none too happy to see him back in town and make it quite clear that they’d like him to leave and never come back, but we wouldn’t have much of a movie if Keoma were to listen to them. Soon enough, he teams up with George (Woody Strode) , an alcoholic ranch hand that used to work with his father, to set things right and bring peace back to the town.

    Set to a bizarre folk music soundtrack, Keoma tends to polarize western fans likely because it is anything but typical. Quite dark in tone and in narrative structure, the movie casts Nero as an unlikely antihero dressed more like a hippy than a cowboy. It’s quite a violent film and it definitely delivers on the action but it’s a movie that has as many critics as it does fans. And that’s a shame, because it really is quite a very well-made film. Nero is excellent here, playing the role with the right mix of dramatic poise and tough guy posturing to make it work even if there are times where we’re wholly cognizant of his heritage and how it doesn’t quite match his character’s background. Woody Strode is also great here, playing one of the strongest roles of his career and managing to make us feel for him, even if we know the mistakes he has made in his life are his and his alone. The supporting cast – villains played by Guerrini, Sinclair and Marsina and the love interest for the lead played by the lovely Olga Karlatos – are also fine, but this show belongs to Nero and to a lesser extent to Strode.

    Castellari keeps the action moving fast and properly framed, using some great slow motion in the shoot-out scenes that’ll automatically make you think of Sam Peckinpah’s work, and using some interesting camera angles to emphasize certain characteristics of the various players that populate this world. It’s all set against a gloomy and dreary looking backdrop that is as good as stand-in for Hell as anything else you might imagine.

    Keoma – Blu-ray Review:

    Keoma arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow in a 2.35.1 widescreen transfer taken from a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative in AVC encoded 1080p high definition looking very good indeed. Presented on a 50GB disc, this new transfer thankfully does not have the DNR and sharpening that was present on the older Mill Creek Blu-ray release. The image is much more film-like in appearance, with a natural amount of grain, and it’s much more impressive to look at. Detail is quite strong and there’s good depth and texture here too. Color reproduction fares really nicely, the film’s grubby, earthy color scheme is conveyed really accurately. Black levels are good and skin tones are just fine. The image appears free of any obvious noise reduction and is devoid of obvious edge enhancement or compression artifacts. All in all, this is quite a strong picture.

    Uncompressed LPCM Mono audio options are provided in English and Italian language options with proper English subtitles for the Italian track and English SDH subtitles for the English track. Both tracks sound crisp and clear and are properly balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion.

    Extras start off with a five-minute optional introduction to the film from filmmaker and Spaghetti Western superfan Alex Cox where he speaks about his appreciation for the picture while offering up some basic background information on the film.

    From there, jump into the new audio commentary by spaghetti western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke where the pair does a fine job of dissecting the film. They, of course, talk about the film’s odd score but also about Nero’s performance and how all of this combines to make for one of the more unique Spaghetti Western films. They also offer plenty of information about the cast and crew, the locations that are featured in the film and provide a solid mix of trivia, insight and critical analysis concerning the picture and those that made it.

    Arrow also provides a host of new featurettes, beginning with The Ballad Of Keoma, a new interview with the legendary star Franco Nero wherein the storied actor spends just shy of twenty-two minutes discussing his work on the picture. He tells some interesting stories here about his relationship with Castellari, what it was like on set, the improvisational nature of certain aspects and his thoughts on the character and the film overall. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust is a new twenty-nine-minute interview with director Enzo G. Castellari that finds the director talking about the state of the genre when this picture was made, producer Manolo Bolognini, his working relationship with Luigi Montefiori (or, if you prefer, George Eastman) and his thoughts on the script he gave him, the locations used for the shoot, working with Nero and the specific look of the film. Speaking of Montefiori, he shows up in Writing Keoma and speaks for sixteen-minutes about exactly what the title states – writing the film. He talks about where some of the ideas for the story came from, bits that he wrote that were never filmed for the production, his thoughts on how his story translated to the big screen under Castellari’s direction and more. Parallel Actions is a twenty-two interview with editor Gianfranco Amicucci who speaks here about working with Castellari on this project and on Street Law, the trickiness involved in some of the film’s slow-motion sequences, his thoughts on Castellari as a filmmaker and collaborator and how he feels about the film. In the twenty-four-minute The Flying Thug we sit with actor Massimo Vanni as he talks about how he first came to know Castellari, some of his early roles, is work as a stuntman, what was required of him on Keoma and what it was like on set during the production. The final interview is Play As An Actor, a half-hour piece with Volfango Soldati that covers how he got his start in the business, getting his part in Keoma, his thoughts on acting alongside Nero, taking direction from Castellari on this and on The Heroin Busters and his thoughts on typically being typecast as a bad guy in many of his film endeavors.

    Also included on the disc is Keoma And The Twilight Of The Spaghetti Western, a newly filmed video appreciation by academic Austin Fisher, who does an interesting deep dive into the state of the genre at the time, what made some of the later era entries interesting, the film’s distinct use of its genuinely bizarre score, Castellari’s direction, Nero’s performance and the film’s use of flashbacks to create something unique.

    Original Italian and international theatrical trailers and a gallery of original promotional images from the Mike Siegel Archive round out the extras on the disc.

    Keoma – The Final Word:

    Keoma is a pretty fun way to kill eighty-minutes or so. The movie is nicely paced and feature some pretty enjoyable performances. It isn’t deep and it shows its age, but there’s plenty of entertainment value here. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray looks and sounds very good and it’s loaded with extras as well. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Keoma screen caps!