Ruthless mobsters crack down hard on barkeeps, strong arming their way into seizing every bar in town. When they mess with Jo Lee-Haywood, the too cocky gangsters messed with the wrong Southern gal as Jo turns out to be Jo Pickings, one of three dames of the notorious Pickings gang. Jo tries to abide by a straighten arrow inspired by her deceased husband and four kids, but crime tugs at her violent past, scraping the good from her clean off. With the help of her brother, Boone, and her sisters, Doris and May, Jo and her family of heavily armed outlaws aim to fight back against thugs and thieves in this modern day western.
“Pickings” is the freshman film of first time feature film producer, writer, and director Usher Morgan. The contemporary gritty western is a maelstrom of goliath turf wars that’s stylized with rotoscoping and other comic book fatigues to dress Morgan’s film as an aesthetically popping story with illustrative visuals, anomalies, and raw tooth violence. The clear cut message, a fairly popular thematic motif among westerns, is don’t mess with family, even if family has been through an estranged time, and though Morgan’s theme runs a fairly conventional line, the “Sin City”-esque overlay gives “Pickings” a strong double take. What’s an especially fun and unique concept is having one of the characters, Sam “Hollywood” Barone, be exhibited in black and white while everyone else is in color as if the character was pulled straight from a Humphrey Bogart classic.
Elyse Price headlines as Jo-Lee Haywood, a wife-mother scorned by notorious gangsters, but the tough as nails mother of four runs a tight-ship when it comes to her bar and to her family. Price doesn’t hold back, taking the gut-checking hits and delivering a twice as big response with a performance of contempt and revenge. Price is joined by Joel Bernard, the sole brother of the Pickens gang whose as tough as they come, especially when you’re the only boy with three sisters. Bernard does the job matching Price’s hard nose character with his own more subtle version. The two other sisters, Doris and May played by Michelle Holland and Lynne Jordan, barely scratch the surface in an appearance that makes their characters difficult to absorb. Aside from Jo Lee-Haywood, the only other character with a significant character arc is her daughter Scarlet Lee-Haywood filled in by Katie Vincent. Vincent’s softens up against her mother’s violence despite being a passive witness to her cornered brutality, but can adhere to the akin familiarities of her family’s long and violent history. The cast rounds out with Yaron Urbas, who in my opinion is a decent mobster, Michael Gentile, and Emil Ferzola.
“Pickings” doesn’t come without problems and one of the problems is is the story concludes on a really too clean note. The inner monologuing exposition of Jo Lee-Haywood conveying her start-to-finish tale of her involvement with the three dames, Doris, May, and Jo, is a good visual like the rest of the Morgan’s film, but is just that, a good visual, and doesn’t carry the weight of suspense and becomes even more diluted when Doris and May have little interaction with Jo and barely any screen time at all to put the oomph into conveying their badassness. Aside from being obvious and telling, the gun blazing finale is also a bit underwhelming and disappointing, chocking everything to a one sided victory without any, or the hope of any, dire loss to compensate just feels empty and, again, too clean for comfort.
Courtesy of Dark Passage Films comes “Pickings” onto DVD and Blu-ray home video. The DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that capture the neo-noir facets of shadowing figures and haunting mysteries. Morgan’s film doesn’t necessary pop with color, but that’s particularly the nature of the genre. Aside from that, no real issue with the DVD transfer. The audio is a stereo option that has an ample dialogue track and a stocky ambient accompaniment. Katie Vincent’s bootlickin’ acoustical score never wavers, cracks, or looses range. Extras include deleted scenes, filmmakers’ commentary, “The Mop” a Pickings short, a behind the scenes featurette, and a spoof reel during the end credits. Loaded with female empowerment, “Pickings” is a violent crime drama with neo-noir battle garments of two warring clans ready to get along like the Hatfields and McCoys, but the undercutting finale puts a sharp spur in one’s couch melding backside, leaving much to be desired from a women scorned vendetta.
In the quiet western town of Clifton, Scott is the naive town fool. As a simple bastard of a prostitute, Scott grew up without a place in Clifton and without knowing who fathered him and is belittled. Scott is only good for is taking up sweeping outside homes, taking care of the horses, and collecting the residential human waste for disposal in order to earn a better living for himself. But That all changed when Frank Talby rode into town. The infamous gunslinger takes the adoring Scott under his wing and turns the town fool into Talby’s right hand gun for hire, making Scott a fast drawing force in Clifton. When Talby takes the reigns over the town of Clifton, Scott doesn’t pity those who mistreated him as Talby turns the disrespectful rich into the town fools, but the one man that cared for Scott is the one man Talby hates the most from his past and Scott must choose between his long time mentor or his newly found idol when the two showdown.
This is a first; a spaghetti western review on Its Bloggin’ Evil! But I just love the genre with the rich story lines and colorful dialogues and dynamics between characters. The genre never becomes dull, the desert stricken west never looks unbearable on screen, and, just like that Seth MacFarlane movie, there are certainly are a million ways to die in the west. Director Tonino Valerli’s “Day of Anger” fits the bill for the Italian Western genre. Also entitled “Gunlaw” or “I giorni dell’ira,” Rome born Giuliana Gemma stars as Scott Mary to make this an authentic spaghetti western and genre veteran, and overall on screen bad guy, Lee Van Cleef, who you may recognize form “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” as the downright mean snake Frank Talby.
The story directly sets up Scott as this blundering idiot, but if you watch closely during the progression of the character, Scott is written with easter eggs showcasing him as being quick, agile, and strong. With Talby schooling him on how to be a gritty gunslinger, Scott is well on his way to being what he always idolized and instead of being the town joke, the town fears him. This is also where the script becomes a bit of enigma because you want Scott, the fool, to be respected by the people of Clifton. Yet, the people still don’t respect Scott and only fear him because he’s becoming like the ruthless Talby who the town folk despise. Giuliana Gemma does a fine job at portraying the nitwit part of Scott, but not so much the quick draw, new and improved Scott. Gemma made the character growth too easy and didn’t sell it properly to have Scott earn the right to be tough.
Lee Van Cleef, on the other hand, is damn nasty. The natural look of undermining and deceptiveness with power and brutality just can’t be undone in any project Cleef undertakes. The character Talby is formidable, cutthroat, and smart and Cleef plays those qualities to the exact tune. Scott is severely overshadowed by Talby making Cleef more of the stud as the “Day of Anger” headlining actor than Giuliana. Giuliana had some success in the niche genre under the pseudo name Montgomery Wood, maybe because it sounded more American or more Hollywood, but when death came for the genre, so did it for Gemma’s lucrative Italian career. Overall, both male leads are not hindered by a female love interest. “Day of Anger,” from start to finish, only contains a handful of scenes were women become prevalent.
The Arrow Film’s Blu-ray released from MVDVisual is quite awe-inspiring sharp with a beautifully brilliant picture that is presented in it’s original aspect ratio 2.35:1 format from the transfer of the original negative. The long range shots of the desert are unbelievable with the 1080p transfer. The contrasting colors amongst the town of Clifton organically bring the town to life, constructing a seemingly realistic town rather than a stage or a set. The audio comes in three soundtrack options: English (longer cut of the film), Italian (longer cut of the film), or English (shorter international version). The Riz Ortolani soundtrack really stands out clearly and firmly but not in annoying overbearing style that doesn’t sync with the film or with the characters’ dialogues. There are a few high frequency pops during a couple of transitional scenes, but these won’t distract from the amazing film. This Region A and B Blu-ray is absolutely stunning with loads of extras just waiting to be experienced. MVD and Arrow Film’s Blu-ray version of “Day of Anger,” the first time on Blu-ray anywhere in the world, would be a fine piece for anybody’s western collection.