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Archive for the ‘Western’ Category

Pale Rider

Monday, June 29th, 2020

June 26, 1985

PALE RIDER is a solid, well made, mostly traditional western starring, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, from a script by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack (THE GAUNTLET, TURNER & HOOCH). Clint stars as a mysterious drifter only referred to as “Preacher,” because when he takes off his stylish trenchcoat he reveals a priestly collar. But this is only after we’ve seen him stick fight a gang of bullies to unconsciousness and comment, “There’s nothin like a nice piece of hickory.” So there are reasons to question whether that’s his true occupation.

The Preacher wanders into a small California mountain town called LaHood, destination unknown. When asked if he’s just passing through he says he hadn’t really thought about it. The man he saved from a beatdown, Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty, Q), invites him to stay for a while. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Wild Bunch

Friday, March 6th, 2020

1969. Woodstock and the moon landing and the Manson murders and all that. A different time.

Not just because of bed-ins and bellbottoms, though. Another thing that was different was that people watched westerns. Tons of them! BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID topped the box office, TRUE GRIT won a best actor Oscar for John Wayne, plus there was MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE, CHARRO!, 100 RIFLES, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!, SAM WHISKEY, MACKENNA’S GOLD, GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, PAINT YOUR WAGON, THE UNDEFEATED, TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE, A TIME FOR DYING. By comparison, I only count nine super hero movies last year, and to get there I had to include GLASS, HELLBOY, BRIGHTBURN and JOKER.

It couldn’t go on forever. John Ford, Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh and Delmer Daves were done making westerns. Howard Hawks only had one more in him. Several years earlier, Sergio Leone had rebuilt the genre in a completely different style, launching an entire national industry in Italy. Then in ’67 BONNIE AND CLYDE pushed the limits of onscreen violence, and in July of ’69, the countercultural, modern western EASY RIDER revved the engine on what would be come “New Hollywood” in the ’70s.

And Sam Peckinpah was hungry. He’d gotten into trouble with MAJOR DUNDEE in ’65, going over budget, fighting with the producer, getting it taken away from him and re-edited. His reputation took a hit, and he got fired from THE CINCINNATI KID a couple days into filming. Luckily NOON WINE, his 1966 hour-long for ABC Stage 67, was well received, giving him the opportunity for a comeback. So what the hell, he went and made an all-timer of a western, but a little different from his previous ones. This was a western made for a time when people were disillusioned about the war in Vietnam and the violent images it brought into their homes. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Nightingale

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

THE NIGHTINGALE, now in limited theatrical release, is Australian director Jennifer Kent’s followup to THE BABADOOK. That 2014 debut of hers was a critical sensation and cult hit that made less than 1/34 the box office of ANNABELLE the same year, but it reached a ton of people, including many who don’t usually bother with the genre. Certainly some of the hype was about it being directed by a woman, and I think that’s relevant in that its scares are based in motherhood. I can point you to plenty of pro-woman horror movies, but few that are about such specifically female fears.

That made Kent one of those directors whose names get reported as being on the short list to direct every WONDER WOMAN or CAPTAIN MARVEL that comes along. She told Indiewire “I did entertain one blockbuster seriously and I thought, yeah, I could give this something really special. But then ultimately I heard about the way the films are made, and I thought it would kill me.” So five years later she still hasn’t been sucked into the ol’ i.p. game, unless you count developing an adaptation of the 19th century lesbian thriller book Alice + Freda Forever. Instead she made this. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hostiles

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Scott Cooper is an actor-turned-writer/director who seems slightly under the radar to me. He made a splash with CRAZY HEART ten years ago, a movie that somehow seems overshadowed by Jeff Bridge’s Oscar-winning performance in it (and that I thought of a few times watching A STAR IS BORN). His followup, the gloomy crime drama OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013), teamed him with Christian Bale (POCAHONTAS) for the first time, and I have to admit that I have not seen his poorly reviewed BLACK MASS (2015). But he didn’t write that one. I only watch the ones he directs and writes, obviously.

2017’s HOSTILES (based on a manuscript written by Donald E. Stewart [JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, DEATHSPORT, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, PATRIOT GAMES, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER] in the ’80s) reteamed him with Bale for what might be categorized as a Real Serious Western – the kind where the director is hesitant to call it a western (“I don’t think in terms of genre… If anything it’s a psychological western in the vein of Anthony Mann…I don’t think it’s a western, it has more in common with Joseph Conrad or Larry McMurtry or Louis L’Amour” he told Moviemaker) and you want to grab them and tell them “all right cool it buddy, just admit you made a really good western.” (See also THE REVENANT.)

But I guess I sort of get it. A completely traditional western is not very marketable in this day and age. Most people don’t really want the genre without a little bit of a new spin on it, and HOSTILES has one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Silverado

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

SILVERADO is Lawrence Kasdan’s upbeat 1985 western about some cowboys and, you know… they meet up and ride together and there’s guns and a jail and a saloon and a guy trying to steal land and all that. I don’t know, it’s a western.

This was Kasdan’s third time directing, after BODY HEAT and THE BIG CHILL. But consider that in the half decade before this he co-wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. This is his rare directing job that has some of the vibe of those George Lucas productions. He wrote SILVERADO with his brother Mark (CRIMINAL LAW) and all these decades later he wrote SOLO with his son Jonathan (who had a bit part in SILVERADO at the age of 14) so I thought it would be a good time to write about this one.

(read the rest of this shit…)

El Condor

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

In 1970, a couple years before he was SLAUGHTER and BLACK GUNN, Jim Brown was the manly hero of the western EL CONDOR. He plays Luke, who’s introduced chained up in a prison labor camp. But the Union army has a mission that could use his special set of skills, so they make him an offer he can’t refuse: if he’ll sneak in and blow up a train for them, they’ll give him his amnesty papers.

Just kidding, he can refuse! He’s already been through that whole suicide mission thing before in THE DIRTY DOZEN. This time he breaks his chains, shoves the papers in the captain’s mouth and escapes. This is one badass reversal of expectations I’m gonna assume belongs to Larry Cohen (RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), who’s credited as screenwriter along with Steven Carabatsos (TENTACLES, HOT PURSUIT). Luke is a Han Solo who stays selfish. Instead of fucking around with war shit and learning a greater cause, he goes on his own mission to try to get Emperor Maximilian’s gold that, according to legend, is in the El Condor fortress, protected by the strongman Chavez (Patrick O’Neal, SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT, THE STUFF, UNDER SIEGE). (read the rest of this shit…)

Jane Got a Gun

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

JANE GOT A GUN is a straight forward modern western, and a pretty good one. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, or have a new twist on it, other than to star Natalie Portman (STAR WARS I, II, III), who also produced it and fought to bring it back to life after the original director famously left on the first day of production.

I can see why she cared about it so much. It’s a good role for her, one she must’ve done alot of preparation for. She’s a much more natural western heroine than I pictured. Jane Hammond lives in a little house on a remote patch of land with a young daughter (Maisie McMaster). One day her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich, WINDTALKERS), who everybody calls “Ham,” comes home dying of a bullet wound. She does exactly what all movie people do in that situation – give him a bottle of liquor, pull the slug out with tongs, and most importantly DROP THE SLUG INTO A METAL BOWL – then chews him out, puts on a hat and a coat and goes out to take care of business.

Okay, I’m making that sound a little more badass than it is, because Jane’s no-fuckin-around demeanor makes it seem that way. She’s not going to get revenge or nothing, she’s actually going to drop the kid off at a friend’s house and then go beg her drunk ex-boyfriend to protect her from the Bishop Boys, the guys who shot Ham and who he says are coming for him. And for her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Two Mules For Sister Sara

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

In TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, grizzled poncho wearing already-played-The-Man-With-No-Name Clint Eastwood stumbles across a lady about to be gang raped in a Mexican desert. He rescues her with his gun and a stick of dynamite and when she puts her clothes back on it’s a damn nun’s habit!

She is Sister Sara (Shirley MacLaine) and, although she’s headed in the opposite direction of Clint’s character Hogan, she ends up getting his protection. The joke of the title was completely over my head until I read about it, but she has one mule and then Hogan is metaphorically the second one. She confesses to him that the French soldiers in the area are looking for her because she was caught raising money for the Mexican army. She hates what these colonialists are doing to the locals.

(Some of the things I’ve read say that Sister Sara was scripted as Mexican. If MacLaine was supposed to be playing it that way I sure didn’t pick up on it.)

Hogan, it turns out, is sort of like Benicio Del Toro in THE LAST JEDI, he doesn’t believe in taking sides (he’s a civil war vet and thinks that makes him a sucker) but he had agreed to a job blowing up a French garrison because he’d get to keep half of their treasury. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wild Wild West

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017
a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

Big Willie Weekend, 1999

Two summers after their hit film MEN IN BLACK, director Barry Sonnenfeld (d.p. of BLOOD SIMPLE) and star Will Smith (SUICIDE SQUAD) tried to bring a similar comedy/special-effects/adventure mix to the old west. It’s like a western in that there are cowboy hats, guns, railroads and occasional horses, but also not really because it’s about two top agents for the president going undercover and then having a big battle against a giant mechanical spider that’s on a rampage and headed for the White House. Not a type of story I’ve seen done with John Wayne or Clint or anybody.

The basis is The Wild Wild West, a western-meets-spies TV show that lasted four seasons, ending thirty years prior to the movie. It was actually cancelled not due to a lack of popularity, but controversy over violence on television, and did have two followup TV movies. But the last of those was in 1980, and nineteen years later it was at best a cult show, and not yet available on DVD. So this is another expensive blockbuster based on characters that most of its intended youthful audience had never seen, or in this case even heard of.

But they didn’t have to know it was based on anything. Waning interest in westerns may have been a bigger problem, but that could’ve been overcome by the popularity of Smith, or the fun gimmick of the gadgets and steampunk type robotics, or the energetic style and cartoonish humor of the director of the ADDAMS FAMILY movies.

But that didn’t happen. (read the rest of this shit…)

3 Godfathers

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

John Ford’s 3 GODFATHERS is a nice Christmas western. It takes place in the desert and the titleistical trio of outlaws are dying of thirst for most of it, but it’s mentioned that it’s Christmas time, and there are allusions to the three wisemen, the star, and other aspects of the Nativity story.

Robert Hightower (John Wayne), Pedro “Pete” Rocafuerte (Pedro Armendariz) and William “The Abeline Kid” Kearney (and introducing Harry Carey, Jr.) are riding into the small town of Welcome to rob a bank, but they stop to make fun of a guy (Ward Bond, RIO BRAVO, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) because the name on his house says “B. Sweet.” He goes by Buck, but his wife calls him “Perley” in front of them and they think that’s a hilariously “perty name” too. They’re being mean, but Mrs. Sweet (Mae Marsh, BIRTH OF A NATION) brings them coffee, makes small talk about where they’re from and growing up with red hair, and also mention to important plot points (the location of a watering hole and that there’s a town called New Jerusalem).

It’s all nice and good until Sweet puts on his vest and everybody sees his sheriff’s badge. Everybody puts on their “oh this” faces except Sweet, who puts on his “yeah, that’s right, I know what you dipshits are up to” face.

(read the rest of this shit…)