Monthly Archives: February 2014

10 Westerns for Skeptics

spaghetti-western--homage-to-sergio-leone-mimulux- (1)

Many people claim to dislike, or not care for, Western movies. In their eyes, it is a dated, boring and cliché-ridden genre which should have been buried alongside John Wayne himself. OK perhaps most do not quite feel as strongly as that but there is an issue with the appeal of the genre today.

I thought I would put up a blog post to give some pointers as to why I think the following films could change minds.

10) The Wild Bunch (1969)

Peckinpah’s brutal western is notorious for the violent climax but the acting on display is what drives this movie.  Holden, Borgnine, Oates and Johnson simmer with aging testerone in a tale which could have been set anywhere and in any century – it’s the story of over-the-hill men on their way out, and of a transition in time between the generations.  Robert Ryan’s reluctant gun-for-hire is the most underestimated performance of the genre.

9) The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

A Western  with Fonda’s defence at a kangaroo court in the dust being the stand-out piece. Themes of vigilantism, mob-justice and prejudice in a Western setting – there’s little-to- no action in what is essentially a courtroom drama, rather than a typical cowboy film. Much like 12 Angry Men, a movie with a message which haunts your thoughts for weeks after.

8) A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)

A humorous, extravagant horse-opera from Segio Leone. This will remind you more of Tarantino and it feels like it could have been made last year. Coburn’s turn as the Irish pyromaniac caught up in the Mexican revolution is charming in a romp which comes across as a pseudo-pantomine. The best fun you will have with a Western.

7) Red River (1948)

A true classic and probably the most stereotypical film on this list.  Saying that though Wayne and Clift are a perfect fit in the father-and-son relationship which breaks down on a lucrative cattle drive – it’s addictive cinema and more of an adventure movie than anything else on this list.

6) The Great Silence (1968)

A dark, brooding Western with a driven Klaus Kinski as a diabolical bountry hunter. The eerie score and snow-clad settings make this a thoroughly unique entry in the genre. There is no happy ending in a movie which often feels more like a film-noir than a Western. No Western has ever been as more about a villain as this piece.

5) Rio Bravo (1959)

Howard Hawks loved this story so much he re-made it twice with El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970). This is about an unlikely trio in a siege situation, and a clear precursor to the action movies of the 1980s. The dynamic between the drunken Martin and valiant Wayne is special, and the comic relief from Walter Brennan will have anyone in tears. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon.

4) Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood’s modern Western is a cut above the rest. Hackman, Harris and Freeman’s presence elevates a  gritty thriller to Oscar-winning status. Similar themes to The Wild Bunch but Eastwood’s character is far darker than Holden’s. An adult and sombre genre movie which merits a watch for the cast alone.

3) Stagecoach (1939)

Ah, John Ford’s classic – the film that made Wayne a star. Here we have a disparate group of individuals stuck on a Stagecoach trying to repel Indian attack. The film however is more about status and class in society  and the characters we have in the stagecoach could have been picked from any era – a renegade hero, a drunk, a gambler, a snob, a prostitute, an executive and a crooked banker. The tinderbox created by throwing these characters together is so well-lit by Ford that you can barely believe your eyes.

2) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

It’s become a bit of cliché over time but Leone’s trump card is a cinematic journey with a score to die for. A snarling Lee Van Cleef and scumbag Eli Wallach partner Eastwood’s Blondie in a bloody race toward Morricone’s symphonic ending amongst the headstones of a graveyard. A film artistic  in its execution.

1)The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Another Ford movie but one which is so rich in the elements of film-making that it surely would convince even the most die-hard of skeptics.  See my previous post on this film here.

It’s hard to explain why a film touches you so much on a personal level; perhaps it’s the dark shadows of the stage-sets, the guttural performances or indeed watching Wayne burn down the house of his dreams but I think it’s none and all of these. It’s simply Ford’s best Western.

misc “bullet” horror reviews…

I have watched quite a few horror movies recently and I don’t really feel they warrant a full review  because they can be easily summarized as follows:

Dead Silence (2007)

Dead_Silence_Movie_Poster_by_RetinalMist

Synopsis:

The ghost of a murdered ventriloquist returns to torment the children of the town she lived in.

Review:

James Wan makes good use of the ventriloquist legend and showcases a startling cinematography. The cast also do a good job here. Certainly, some scenes will stay with you for a long time (the graveyard of puppets is one) but the directionless script and the ‘shock’ ending is the worst of a misguided second act.

hotdog rating: 5.5/10

Prison (1988)           

prison_1988

Synopsis:

A wrongfully executed man haunts an old prison  re-opened by a sadistic warden who knew of his innocence.

 Review:

An effective suspenser which benefits from a genuine creepiness and an above-average cast. Lane Smith’s portrayal of the sadistic warden is electric and the inmates are played with interest, meaning it works as a bit of a prison drama as well as being a ‘frightening device’. The set-piece murder sequences are perfect and whilst there are no surprises in the narrative it’s well-done 80s horror on a budget.

hotdog rating: 7/10

Offerings  (1989)

offerings

Synopsis:

A young boy falls down a well as part of a prank. Years later he escapes from a mental home and sets out slicing and dicing…..

Review:

At heart this is a by-the-numbers Halloween (1978) clone which lacks originality – even for the slasher genre. It however is interesting for some nasty sequences and a synth-heavy score with cuts right through the viewer as much as the killer’s knife. Clearly a tongue-in-cheek effort, the script makes you wince and the acting is some of the worst I have seen . Enjoyable in a trashy kind of way.

hotdog rating: 2.5/10

Mausoleoum (1983)

mausoleum_poster_01

Synopsis:

Not quite sure, something about a family curse passed down through generations turning young women into demons.

Review:

The film has the look of a cheap porno movie and a plot which doesn’t really make sense (the final shot is baffling). There is however a dash of camerawork and eclectic use of lighting which seem to display some level of competence from behind the camera but with a cast and plot like this it’s almost impossible to save. The almost laughable special effects really make the film show its age and some disconcerting viewers probably won’t be able to see past them.

hotdog rating: 3/10

Death of a Gunfighter (1969)

death of a gunfighter

Synopsis:

An aging town marshal (Richard Widmark) is a bit too trigger happy with his gun for modern times and is forced out by the town that hired him 20 years previously.

Review:

It’s unusual for a film to contain so few likeable characters, yet there are simply no good guys here. Even the comedic additions – in the wise-cracking Walter Brennan type roles – turn sour as the movie progresses.

Nevertheless, I liked this film precisely because it eschews the good vs the bad in a Western, and in this regard perhaps goes further than even the anti-heros of  the spaghetti sub-genre. In terms of visuals, the film could at times pass for an italian effort –  the film looks  gorgeous and captures a western town torn between its frontier past and cosmopolitan future rather brilliantly. The juxtaposition of the town square and the old saloon  being the best example. There are also flashes of cinematic exuberance, for me the major highlight being a crane sequence as the camera follows a young boy about to avenge his father’s suicide.

Widmark may seem like an odd choice for a protagonist in this role but is credibly assured. Frankly however it’s once again the supporting cast – so typical of the  genre – who brim with memorable performances.  Top of this list is the slimey Carroll O’Connor, whose jovial features hide a simmering bitterness. But it’s disingenuous to single out O’Conner in particular because the whole of the town – and specifically the old men of the town council – are a great acting troupe indeed. These men cast sad shadows across their council table, men without backbone but with a sense of vision of where they want their town to go. It’s this depthness of character which I feel makes this film just a bit more than a typical western. At the end of the movie, these elders chillingly execute the marshal who he has served them perhaps too well over the decades. The finale is  admittedly gloomy, brutal and inevitable – but in a manner doesn’t frustrate the viewer. Moreover, the circular narrative that opens and ends this film has a certain kind of charm.

Despite the above, there are however problems with pacing throughout the movie and at times not much appears to be happening.  I assume this is down to the switch in directors (apparently at star Widmark’s request). That said, given the off-screen problems with this production, it’s perhaps surprising to say that this is possibly one of the more complicated and uncompromising American Westerns of the 60s.

An under-rated film which although devoid of the WOW factor is well worth a watch. Similar themes emerge in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch released in the same year, so if you like this, you may wish to try that out. It’s a lot bloodier than this film though – but also better.

Hotdog rating: 7.5/10