Another link to cinema’s past has left us with the passing of the legendary Italian and eventually American producer at age 91. A truly old school style movie mogul with all the good and bad that went with that, creatively speaking, Dino De Laurentiis was instrumental in launching the worldwide vogue for European cinema, particularly in his partnership with fellow powerhouse producer Carlo Ponti and ultimate Italian auteur Federico Fellini.
During a period I personally consider Fellini’s creative prime, De Laurentiis co-produced two of the director’s most powerful films, the classic tearjerker “La Strada” with Anthony Quinn and the great Giulietta Masina, and “Nights of Cabiria” also with Masina, a great tragicomedy and a huge personal favorite of mine. He also produced two now somewhat obscure adaptations, a version of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” with Audrey Hepburn and “Ulysses.” Fortunately, the latter was not an adaptation of the James Joyce stream-of-consciousness meganovel, but Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and starred Kirk Douglas in the heroic title role.
No snob, De Laurentiis had a gift for commingling arthouse fare, quality middlebrow entertainment, and complete schlock — some of it fun, some it merely schlocky. Geeks cried foul when he eschewed stop-motion for an unworkable animatronic monstrosity and, mostly, Rick Baker in a monkey suit for his silly mega-blockbuster remake attempt, “King Kong,” but that movie was a classic when compared to something like the hugely regrettable killer-whale flick “Orca.”
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Bruce Campbell has never received the attention he deserves as a character actor. After two failed TV series and a lifetime of riding on Sam Raimi’s coattails, you’d think that he’d run into a bit of luck eventually, but the closest that he’s come to success is a supporting role on the USA drama “Burn Notice.” Sometimes, when you need something done, you’ve got to do it yourself, and though Campbell’s first trip behind the camera (the Sci-Fi Channel movie, “The Man with the Screaming Brain”) was ultra-campy, his latest effort is a big improvement. A self-proclaimed Bob Hope movie with decapitations, “My Name Is Bruce” isn’t the actor’s finest hour, but it’s a nice bit of fan service that will please his loyal following.
In it, Campbell stars as a fictional version of himself, a B-movie action star who’s recruited by a small mining town to stop the recently resurrected Chinese God of War, Guan-di. What follows is the kind of goofy, slapstick comedy that fans have come to expect from the actor over the years, and it’s littered with familiar faces like Ellen Sandweiss (“The Evil Dead”), Dan Hicks (“Evil Dead 2”), Timothy Patrick Quill (“Army of Darkness”), and Ted Raimi. Those expecting anything other than B-movie quality are bound to be disappointed, but if that’s the case, they’re probably not real Bruce Campbell fans either. “My Name Is Bruce” is the ultimate fan experience, and though it will probably never rank among the actor’s best work, it’s still a must-see. In fact, the vast collection of extras included on the Blu-ray release (like the audio commentary by Campbell and the making-of featurette, “Heart of Dorkness”) is worth the price of admission alone.
Click to buy “My Name Is Bruce”