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Archive for the ‘Western’ Category

Maverick

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024

May 20, 1994

You know what – I had never seen MAVERICK until now. But look at these credits, man. Directed by Richard Donner (between LETHAL WEAPON 3 and ASSASSINS), written by William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, HEAT [1986]), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond (MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, HEAVEN’S GATE, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK), edited by Stuard Baird (DIE HARD 2, THE LAST BOYSCOUT) and Michael Kelly (CRIMEWAVE, BLACK EAGLE), production design by Thomas E. Sanders (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA). Also I immediately wondered “why does this sound exactly like TOY STORY?” and realized that the score was by Randy Newman.

I would not say MAVERICK comes anywhere close to living up to the sum of its parts. But it’s fine. Pretty good for a while. The opening kinda reminded me of another ‘90s western-ish blockbuster sort of based on old TV shows, MASK OF ZORRO, and from me that’s a big compliment. Our hero Bret Maverick is introduced in the midst of a squabble, some guy named Angel (Alfred Molina, also in CABIN BOY, WHITE FANG 2: MYTH OF THE WHITE WOLF and REQUIEM APACHE that year) and his thugs leaving him on his horse in the middle of the desert, hands tied behind his back, noose around his neck, snake dumped in front of the horse to inspire movement.

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Five Fingers For Marseilles

Monday, April 22nd, 2024

FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES is a very cool 2017 South African movie. I thought it was gonna be a straight-up African western, but it turns out it’s a modern day African western. It’s set in a small town that European colonists named Marseilles. The Africans who originally lived there were forced up the hill, and since most of them worked on the new railway they just called their town Railway.

The title refers to a group of kids who fancy themselves the protectors of the town. It’s weird, though, because there seem to be six of them. The boys are Zulu (the leader), Tau a.k.a. Lion (“Ruthless, the fastest. Sometimes the meanest.”), Pockets (the rich one), Cockroach and Pastor. But also there’s Lerato, who they consider “their heart and soul,” so I sure hope she counts as one of the five and it’s Cockroach or someone who’s just an affiliate, not a full-fledged Finger, like Killah Priest for Wu-Tang. Seems like the heart and soul should get all the privileges of membership.
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After Blue (Dirty Paradise)

Wednesday, March 6th, 2024

There’s this weird French filmmaker, Bertrand Mandico. He has a new movie I’ve seen people raving about called SHE IS CONANN. When I read about it, I realized that over the last few years I’ve read about two other movies of his that also sounded really intriguing. So I decided to finally try one.

AFTER BLUE (DIRTY PARADISE) is his second movie, it’s on Shudder in addition to DVD and blu-ray, but it’s not horror. The reductive way I thought of to describe it is “Jodorowsky’s BARBARELLA,” then I noticed that the promo materials from distributor Altered Innocence call it “a lesbian EL TOPO (in space!),” so I guess I’m not the only one to think of it that way. But I think mine is a little more precise.

It’s set on a planet called After Blue, where people moved to when “the Earth was sick, rotten,” and made new rules banning electronics and screens “to avoid the same mistakes.” Everything works differently there. For example, something about the atmosphere makes hair grow on your neck, and for men it grows inward, so they all died off. Luckily, women can be inseminated “with good Earth sperm.” (read the rest of this shit…)

High Plains Drifter

Monday, January 1st, 2024

For eleven years now I’ve had a tradition/superstition/delusion that my first review of a new year has to be a Clint Eastwood movie. And I’ve written about other Clint movies at other times of the year, so the pool of untouched marquee titles is shrinking. Let’s go through chronologically: I’ve done A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, I’m saving the other Sergio Leones for a rainy day, and I’ve done almost everything else through the ‘70s: HANG ‘EM HIGH, COOGAN’S BLUFF, WHERE EAGLES DARE, PAINT YOUR WAGON, TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, KELLY’S HEROES, THE BEGUILED… I have not done PLAY MISTY FOR ME, but I feel like I’ll want to do that on a Valentine’s Day or something.

I’ve done DIRTY HARRY, I did JOE KIDD last year, and there are a handful after that I could still get to. But HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) is an important one just sitting there, the second thing he ever directed, first western he directed, his movie that seems most influenced by working with Leone.

The only reason I hesitate is the same reason it kinda seems fitting as a start to 2024: I’ve seen this and it’s a dark one. I don’t want to jinx anything, I don’t want it to be representative of the type of year we have ahead, though I have a knot in my stomach every day telling me it might be. No, I want this to be an exorcism. Or at least an acknowledgment of some of the ugliness that’s out there, that we gotta get past. (read the rest of this shit…)

Buck and the Preacher

Wednesday, March 1st, 2023

Right after western star Clint Eastwood first directed himself in PLAY MISTY FOR ME, but before he directed his first western with THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, Sidney Poitier beat him to it with BUCK AND THE PREACHER (1972). It was his first time directing a movie and first time leading a western (though he’d been in DUEL AT DIABLO).

Much like POSSE will have to do 21 years later, BUCK AND THE PREACHER starts out by establishing that yes, silly head, there were Black people in the old west. This history is communicated visually by showing the film’s characters in sepia tone photos. The story takes place after the civil war, when some former slaves decided sharecropping was just slavery 2.0 and tried their luck traveling west to find, as a title card puts it, “new frontiers where they could be free at last.” Where the western genre comes in is that “they placed their hopes in the hands of the few black wagonmasters that knew the territories of the West.” (read the rest of this shit…)

El Diablo / The Resurrection of Broncho Billy

Thursday, February 9th, 2023

EL DIABLO is a mediocre 1990 made-for-cable western that I watched because it’s based on an old John Carpenter script. As a Carpenter-once-removed movie I thought it would make a good followup to yesterday’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 remake review.

The original script was written in the ‘70s, and was reportedly set to be Carpenter’s directorial followup to THE FOG, but he got nervous about doing a western. I couldn’t find any mention of the project in John Carpenter: The Prince of Darkness by Gilles Boulenger, but the last question in that great interview book is about why he never directed a a straight western. “There is a part of me that worries about making a western, that worries about the horses, that worries about ending up in a film I wouldn’t understand,” Carpenter said. “I don’t know why. I can’t explain that. Maybe people who had made westerns intimidate me. I don’t really want to compete with them. Perhaps I’m a coward, but I feel more at ease competing in the horror genre than competing with Howard Hawks or John Ford or any of the greats.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Joe Kidd

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

JOE KIDD (1972) is Clint Eastwood’s only movie directed by John Sturges (BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK) and also his only one written by Elmore Leonard. Leonard was no stranger to Hollywood – his western novels The Law at Randado, Last Stand at Saber River and Hombre (plus the short stories 3:10 to Yuma, The Tall T and Only Good Ones and the crime novel The Big Bounce) had already been made into movies, and he’d adapted his own The Moonshine War. But this was his first original screenplay, which he’d written as THE SINOLA COURTHOUSE RAID or SINOLA.

Eastwood plays the titular fuckup, formerly a bounty hunter, now pursuing other interests, primarily getting drunk and arrested. He has a pretty good Leonard-ian introduction: passed out in a cell, his jailers bring breakfast and coffee to wake him up for a court appearance, but his cellmate Naco (Pepe Callahan, THE LONG GOODBYE) keeps it out of his reach and taunts him about it. Joe thinks he remembers that deputy Bob Mitchell (Gregory Walcott, PRIME CUT) hit him, but has to ask for confirmation. They say he was illegally hunting a mule deer on the Indian reservation, then threatened to piss on the court house, and it took three cops to bring him in. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Quick and the Dead

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD has a very traditional western story, other than featuring a woman – Sharon Stone (ABOVE THE LAW) as Ellen – in the role of vengeance-seeking gunslinger. You’ve got your western town desperate to get out from under the yoke of a cruel ruler (Gene Hackman [THE SPLIT, PRIME CUT] as John Herod), and your mysterious drifter in town trying to get up the guts to shoot him for killing her father in front of her. All the shootists with the fastest guns and biggest mouths are coming in for a quick draw tournament, and she enters in hopes of getting a shot at her enemy.

But I think it’s truly distinct among ‘90s westerns, with two major things that make it stand out. One is the incredible cast. It includes great western icons: Woody Strode, Roberts Blossom, Pat Hingle, and of course Hackman in a performance arguably on par with UNFORGIVEN. It has colorful roles for genre favorites: Lance Henriksen, Keith David, Mark Boone Jr., Tobin Bell, Sven-Ole Thorsen. It has Gary Sinise immediately after his star-making, Oscar-nominated performance in FORREST GUMP. And it has two right-before-they-exploded co-stars: pre-L.A. CONFIDENTIAL Russell Crowe as former outlaw turned pacifist preacher Cort, and known-for-WHAT’S-EATING-GILBERT-GRAPE Leonardo DiCaprio as The Kid, the cocky, baby-faced son of Herod entering the contest just to get the attention of his asshole dad. We actually see The Kid mobbed by young women at one of the shooting matches, something that would become more familiar to DiCaprio a year later when ROMEO + JULIET came out. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Harder They Fall

Thursday, December 9th, 2021

THE HARDER THEY FALL (no relation to THE HARDER THEY COME) is one of the better movies I’ve seen this year, and definitely one of the better made-for-Netflix ones. It’s a western with an all-Black, all-star cast, and the opening title card says, “While the events in this story are fictional… These. People. Existed.”

That hand clap emoji type cadence makes me think they’re talking to doofuses who don’t know basic history and/or Mario Van Peebles’ POSSE and think there weren’t Black people in the Old West. But also They. Existed. in the sense that most of the main characters are based on – or at least named after – actual historical figures. But writer/director Jeymes Samuel and co-writer Boaz Yakin (THE PUNISHER [1989], THE ROOKIE, FRESH, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2, PRINCE OF PERSIA, SAFE) have no qualms about putting together people who never would’ve crossed paths, giving them totally new origin stories, killing them young in a gunfight even if they died of old age. But think of it as a LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN type team-up fantasy. It’s a good western story.

Jonathan Majors (HOSTILES, DA 5 BLOODS) ably stars as Nat Love, the legendary outlaw whose tragic backstory opens the film. He’s a kid (Chase Dillon from The Underground Railroad) at the dinner table with his parents when Rufus Buck (Idris Elba, PROM NIGHT) and another guy come in, blast them away with golden pistols for some unexplained debt, and carve a cross into little Nat’s forehead. So, like Harmonica in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or Ellen in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, this kid’s got a pretty good revenge mission to get to when he grows up. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cry Macho

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

CRY MACHO is the new one starring and directed by Mr. Clint Eastwood. In a way it seems like a movie he would’ve made when he was younger, and in fact he almost did make it in the late ‘80s, but decided to do THE DEAD POOL instead. I think making it now it ended up much gentler than it would’ve back then, for better or worse. Although it has some things in common with THE MULE (goofy old widower driving over the border into Mexico, going to a scary villa of criminals, driving around in a truck, getting chased by gunmen and cops) it’s a simpler story and production. As a result it might have fewer things people can pick out to laugh at, but also less that’s really original or interesting about it.

That’s okay. It’s an actor in his ‘90s directing himself during a pandemic. As far as those go it’s a fuckin masterpiece. I enjoyed it. (read the rest of this shit…)