Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Backlog Week Entry 2: A Fistful of Fingers - No, It's Not a Caligula Joke

So with last night's announcement posted (and again, I can't stress the value of your input enough on that) we're back to the review backlog to be caught up this week.

This next entry was lined up to actually go with two Fridays back, to coincide with Edgar Wright wrapping up the last of his Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, The World's End. That write-up will be here tomorrow. In the meantime, thanks to a mix of checking filmography and hunting around, I was able to track down Wright's feature directorial debut - the spaghetti western sendup A Fistful of Fingers - Okay TECHNICALLY it's a remake of his first version of the movie, which was done on a considerably lower budget (believe me, I've been trying to find that version as well.)

Told ya that was the actual name...

To anyone whose prior encounters with Wright's penchant for parody come from the above mentioned trilogy, I should warn you now. This is a different flavor of parody compared to those films. While there is still a healthy dose of genre-riffing abundant in Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End, they also still have a separate story that could, theoretically, exist without the riffing. By comparison, Edgar Wright is going all-in on the parody with this film.

As such, what story we have is even an extension of the send-up: we followed the gunman with no name (Graham Low, complete with the Eastwood style adornment) as he ambles into town seeking to take down the wanted criminal known only as The Squint (Oli van der Vijver.) What follows is a skewed playthrough of many of the tried and true western cliches, up to and including even spoofing on the genre's tendency to be less than PC in its handling of Native Americans, largely in the form of No-Name's companion, Running Sore (Martin Curtis.)

Yep...again, they go all in with this.

On paper, this really doesn't sound like much. Fortunately, Writer/director Wright has enough of a sense of humor to take the very basic premise and characters and still make for a good run with them. A run that actually is further added to by the fact this is very much in the spirit of a low budget student film (considering the original was one,) most notably with regards to how it chooses to handle horses, as pictured below. It actually becomes a sort of strength for the movie - rather than try and downplay its more low budget pieces, the film embraces them, making the way the actors handle them as much a part of the joke. Given the style of some of the spaghetti westerns, this is actually rather fitting.


The result, oddly enough, feels a bit less like Blazing Saddles, and a bit more like Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Cannibal! The Musical. It's a work that feels comfortable enough in its low-budget trappings to have fun with them without making them feel like it's being done arbitrarily to mock it.

Given that the design of this film is more based around the joke than the story, this does have something of a drawback in terms of its execution - some parts can be a bit hit or miss depending how you feel about the humor. For the most part, it's still fairly entertaining, but if you're looking for something beyond the light laugh, this isn't gonna get you particularly far.

In an example of one of the gags I have to admit I found particularly amusing - taking the old west saloon to such a full cliche that everyone in the bar acts as though they're animatronic dummies on a loop...but only when someone comes in, of course.

Still, there's something to be said for simplicity some times. This film does what it wants and for the most part, succeeds. The script takes some somewhat well-worn ground for parody and manages to mine some fresh laughs out of it where other films would likely have less luck. Also, given this was a very early attempt at a feature, some of the bumps are to be a bit expected. For a second-filming-of-a-first try, it still shows a good deal of the potential Wright would then go on to impress people with, both in television and film (for those who've enjoyed his films but not checked out his TV work, consider this a less than subtle plug to watch Spaced.)  It's actually fascinating, in an odd way, to get to seeing some of the earlier works from a director like this, while they're still finding their more solid footing. Wright walks a bit of an easier path here, but still shows he's got it in him to take on more challenges in the future, as he has then gone on to prove.

All in all, nothing must-see, but if you're a fan of the man's work, it's certainly a nice look at his early years if you have the interest. Even outside of that, hey, still fairly entertaining as a parody movie goes.

Now tomorrow we get to play time and tone whiplash by looking at Edgar Wright's latest, as promised above.

Till then...

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