Posts Tagged “Western”

1992

Netflix Blu-Ray
USA
English
131 Minutes — August 7, 1992
Drama / Western
Clint Eastwood [Play Misty For Me; The Outlaw Josey Wales; Sudden Impact; Heartbreak Ridge; Bird; White Hunter, Black Heart; The Rookie; The Bridges Of Madison County; Mystic River; Million Dollar Baby; Flags Of Our Fathers; Letters From Iwo Jima; Changeling; Gran Torino; Invictus]

#217 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

A former hired killer turned unsuccessful farmer, together with a young would-be gunfighter and an old friend, set out to collect a thousand-dollar reward for killing the cowboys who slashed the face of a prostitute.

“Harsh Western of revenge and needless slaughter that re-invents and revives the genre to spectacular effect.” — **** — Halliwell’s.

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

Clint Eastwood…Bill Munny
Gene Hackman…Little Bill Daggett
Morgan Freeman…Ned Logan
Richard Harris…English Bob

Oscar Wins for Picture, Director, Hackman, and Editing.

Clint Eastwood’s 1992 film, UNFORGIVEN, has a special place in my heart. But not because I liked it. I remember it being the first critically acclaimed film that I ever hated. Ever since I saw PLATOON and realized that movies meant something, I’ve generally agreed with the critical consensus on films large and small. UNFORGIVEN was universally heralded as a monumental piece of film that reinvented the western and made us forget everything we ever knew about gunfighter movies.

Um, no. 19 years ago, I couldn’t understand the big deal at all. It seemed pretty ordinary to me. So obviously the problem was mine, not the general feeling of the movie-going public. So, I’ve wanted to revisit this film for awhile, to see what in the world was wrong with me when I saw it the first time. I popped in the Blu-Ray.

And it turns out, the problem wasn’t with me back in 1992, and it isn’t with me in 2011. This is the most overrated film I’ve probably ever seen. I joke with friends that I can’t get through 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY without falling asleep, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it has value.

But UNFORGIVEN is simplistic on every level. Our “hero” Bill Munny isn’t just down on his luck, when we first see him, he’s literally being dragged through the mud by one of the pigs he raises. In fact, so afraid is Director Eastwood that we won’t get the point, that he repeats this scene again, just in case we didn’t get it the first time. Eastwood’s character doesn’t just tell us he used to be a bad guy, but he tells us over and over again. He also repeats that “I ain’t that guy anymore” several dozen times. Because his “dear departed wife turned me away from wickedness and drink.”

The character of “The Schofield Kid” is not only a stupid, blind, schoolyard bully braggart, but he’s a ridiculous braggart. “I’ve killed five men.” “I could have killed you right there.” “You ain’t much.” I mean over and over. We get it. The guy hasn’t done anything, can’t shoot anything, is a little boy trying to be tough. But my god, how about some subtlety? This guy made me want to scream. And I semi-blame the actor. I get that Munny needs money (get it?) and will put up with the kid just to get paid, but come on.

On to Morgan Freeman. “We ain’t those guys no more, we’re farmers.” The scene where Munny visits Logan is like that “one last score” scene from every bank robbery movie. First Logan’s against it, then he stands directly beneath his rifle and says “how long you expect to be gone, Bill?” There’s a scene where the kid is shooting at Munny and Logan and Morgan’s eyes are minstrel-show-wide as he crawls around wondering who’s shooting at them.

Hackman’s character is given more to work with and Richard Harris as a foppish English assassin is pretty cool. But what about the fat deputy? “Would you rather be killed in hot or cold weather?” the semi-retarded character says to the (no joke) one-armed fellow deputy.

Munny is shown unable to mount his horse, not once, not twice, but three times, while Freeman is forced to say “Jesus, Bill”. The guy who runs the billiard hall all but twirls his mustache as he calls the hookers “bitches”.

It wasn’t all bad. I get the whole “trying to outrun your past” and “can bad men really change” parts. I like the last 30 minutes or so when talk of killing changes into actual killing. I like that Morgan Freeman’s race is never mentioned and Hackman likes having a writer follow him around to publicize his legend. There are no poetic or beautiful deaths. Some important deaths happen off screen and some simply silence the characters. But these little pieces of insight amounted to about 20 minutes of a long 131-minute film.

I think what may have ruined me for this film (the second time I watched it) is HBO’s DEADWOOD. The canceled too early western epic, where every character was created in shades of grey. The bumbling hotel manager wasn’t a complete idiot. The boss of the town was cruel in ways that Hackman and the pimp in UNFORGIVEN have never thought of. The sheriff wasn’t perfect, the women had personalities and demanded justice. The nuances that DEADWOOD was full of put it head and shoulders above something like UNFORGIVEN.

I can’t believe how disappointed I was a second time. I look forward to comments defending it.

One note on the picture quality of the Blu-Ray: I’m not really one of those guys who checks the bitrate of the DVD data and figures out how clear the picture is and whatnot. However, though I haven’t seen very many Blu-Rays in my life, this one was absolutely crystal clear. Even the stuff in the far away background. It just looked magnificent. But that doesn’t mean I like it.

8.2 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB (Number 96 All Time)

UNFORGIVEN

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2010

January 11, 2011
San Jose — Cinearts Santana Row
USA
English
110 Minutes
Adventure / Drama / Western
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen [Blood Simple; Raising Arizona; Miller’s Crossing; Barton Fink; The Hudsucker Proxy; Fargo; The Big Lebowski; O Brother Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; No Country For Old Men; Burn After Reading; A Serious Man]

Jeff Bridges; Hailee Steinfeld; Matt Damon; Josh Brolin; Barry Pepper

Terrific from start to finish. Young Hailee Steinfeld is a force to be reckoned with, playing 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who wants justice against the man who shot her father and won’t take “no” for an answer. Not many of the telltale signs of the Coens here. It’s a beautifully shot film to be sure, but it lacks the wackiness, winking, and matter-of-fact violence that has made the Coens such great filmmakers. In a strange way, I wanted it to be more adult. They never venture past the PG-13 line, either in language or violence. I felt like an R-version of this film would have been monumental.

Having said that, I want to see it again, and some of the Coen magic shows up in the fast-paced dialogue, where Matty all but hoodwinks anyone foolish enough to negotiate with her. The language is almost West Wing level, circa late-1800s, full of legalese and old-fashioned-sounding put-downs. An early extended courtroom scene sets the stage for the verbal gymnastics we’ll be exposed to as the film goes on.

Another vintage Coen touch is a “medicine man”, dressed inside of a bear skin, complete with head attached. The Coens love to pause and watch characters tangential to the plot (the coffee shop scene in Fargo comes to mind). This man adds texture to the proceedings, though not much story.

The acting is first-rate, with young Steinfeld holding her own against Bridges and Damon, who get into a “measuring dicks” contest that is hilarious. The landscape realism had me shivering and feeling dusty. At some points the dialogue had me thinking of, yes, the late, great DEADWOOD.

Barry Pepper and his teeth play a bad guy who honors the code of the west. As part of that code, native Americans are not afforded the same “any last words” privileges that pale faces are.

When my daughter is old enough, I’ll take her to see this. There are far worse role models for young women than Mattie Ross.

8.3 IMDB
8.0 Metacritic

TRUE GRIT

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1956

June 23, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
English
119 Minutes — March 13, 1955
Adventure / Drama / Western
John Ford [Stagecoach; The Grapes Of Wrath]
#7 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A confederate war veteran tracks down the Indians who have slaughtered his brother and sister-in-law and carried off their daughter.

There are no two ways about it: this is one racist film. Wayne is so disgusted by Indians, that he barely acknowledges a quarter-cherokee member of his own family–a young man he saved after his parents were killed in an attack. He refuses to let the young man call him “uncle”, though the rest of the kids do. Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, also believes that death is a better result for a young woman than having sex with an Indian. Which is basically what the entire film is about.

Wayne has returned to his brother’s ranch several years after the Civil War has ended. He has with him some gold coins, never bothering to explain where they came from. We assume that Edwards’ work isn’t always above board. A man’s cattle are stolen and he joins the party to go find them. While out in the brush, they all realize that the cattle were just a diversion so that Comanche could attack the undefended homesteads. What follows is an incredibly tense, scary, though not explicit scene of attack. When Edwards and Martin (the aforementioned part-Cherokee) return, it is too late. We again don’t see anything but reactions and know what state the family is in. Missing are the two teenage girls. Edwards must find them before they are “married” into the Comanche world.

Euphemisms like “married” or “indoctrinated” or “she’s all Indian now” really mean that another race, in this case Native American, has had sex with the virginal, snow-white teenage girls in checkered prairie dresses. And while modern audiences might say “I can sorta see how that wouldn’t be cool back then”, the anger and frustration that Wayne shows while trying to find the girls is much deeper than all that. He feels it his duty to kill his own family members rather than have them live with who he considers savages. With their own language to boot.

The story, which is sort of a chase film that takes place in Monument Valley, amongst some of the most beautiful scenery ever captured, is basically: will Edwards find the girls; how long will it take; and once he does, will he kill them? That’s it. The bad guy, the Comanche chief is a man named Scar. Two things here: he is played by a blue-eyed guy who looks like he lives in Brooklyn thus completely taking us out of the picture (Bogdanovich in a fabulous commentary explains that “that’s just how it was done back then”) and two, and probably more important, Ford sets up this “Scar” character as a renegade evil Comanche as opposed to the honorable (docile?) Comanches which were filling the governmental aid stations back then. This sort of gets him off the hook in terms of the savagery of one particular group of Indians not speaking for the whole clan.

Lest you think that the film is a progressive portrayal of Native Americans, you need only look at the scene where Edwards and Martin are shown a small group of teenage girls who have been “liberated” by government troops from their Indian captors. To say that they’ve ended up loopy would be an understatement. They act like children raised by wolves, thus affirming everything that Edwards thinks will happen to his own nieces. “They ain’t white anymore” one character says.

Setting aside the underlying racism of the whole enterprise, one can marvel at the photography. Granted, Ford had perhaps the greatest natural backdrop in film history at his disposal, but that didn’t mean that he just sat back and watched the magic. The justly famous shots of darkened doorways with the silhouettes of characters remains quite striking. The vistas are broad, the shootouts easy to follow, and certain chase scenes where groups of Indians are several miles back on bluffs are fabulous in their composition. How Ford got everyone to be at the right place at the right time for a shot is beyond me.

There is an extra interlude where dancing and a wedding take place that felt out of place, but perhaps the film was too heavy for 1956 audiences and they needed some comic relief. This relief is in the form of a borderline retarded mailman suitor and a looney old drunken deathbed old guy who spouts non sequitors. But scenes with these two are few and far between. Don’t get me started on the bratty acting of Jeffrey Hunter as Martin who seems to pout his way around the west.

Wayne is pretty awesome as someone trying to protect everyone around him from how the real world operates. He shields young men from the heartbreak they’re destined to experience, he protects people from violence and the aftermath of savagery. In Wayne’s eyes you can see that he feels like he’s experienced things and seen things that he doesn’t wish on anyone else. He knows that gold gets things done, that murder is bloody and awful, and that naive young love is no match for a harsh world.

He also rides a horse well and dresses in bright colors.

This is rightly considered a classic (Number 7 on the Big List of 1000 Movies). The photography is spectacular, the action exciting, the story morally ambiguous, and the acting is mostly great.

8.0 IMDB
**** Halliwells

The Searchers @ Amazon

THE SEARCHERS

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Written by Michael W. Cummins