Showing posts with label westerns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label westerns. Show all posts

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Robo-Watch: Westworld (1973)

It had been some time since I'd watched the 1973 sci-fi classic, Westworld.  I'd rented it with Jason some time back in the late 80's, and I think we both really liked it (but, if memory serves, he'd seen it before).    I've only seen it again once in college somewhere along the line, enjoyed it, but not watched it again anytime in the last 16 years at least.  I've tried to watch the sequel, Futureworld, but just couldn't watch the 1976 film.  Something about the pacing lost me the one time I tried to give it a whirl.

It seems HBO is launching a TV series also titled Westworld which will greatly expand on the ideas presented in the movie.  It's got an all-star cast and looks to be the sort of thing I find interesting in science fiction.*  I'll be checking it out, certainly, and have high hopes.  Anyway, it got me fired up to review the original film once again.

Friday, June 10, 2016

TL;DR - Spaghetti Watch-tern (Again): Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) isn't just one of my favorite Spaghetti Westerns or Westerns, it's one of my favorite movies.  I try not to watch it too often as I'm afraid I'll reduce something about the film by making the viewing of the film rote (I've come dangerously close to this with Superman I and II).  Instead, each time I watch the movie, I feel like I get something more out of it, see some detail, appreciate some nuance a bit more.  If you ever want to see my ideal for combination of camera work, design of scene, score, acting and blocking to drive story and ideas - look no further.

The film features a tremendous central cast.  Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson of course.  Jason Robards.

Woody Strode and Jack Elam have guest spots as gunmen.

And, of course, we have Claudia Cardinale as Jill.

I wrote up this movie in August of last year.  You can read my write up there with many loving screengrabs I stole from the internets.

SimonUK and I took in a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Wednesday evening.  It was the second time I'd seen the movie on the big screen, the first being one of my first trips to The Alamo Drafthouse at its original location on Colorado Street.  This time we didn't get the large theater, but the projection was phenomenal.  I assume it was s digital projection, as we weren't told otherwise.

While I don't have anything particularly new to say about the movie itself, I have been thinking about one aspect of the film in relation to current trends in how we interact with media in 2016.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Western Watch: Shane (1953)

I hadn't watched Shane (1953) in more than a decade.  Even the DVD I have is clearly a relic from the beginning of the DVD era.  If I hadn't watched the movie in a while, it seems that Jamie does not care for Shane, and that's one of those things that you're going to have to endure if you want to stay married.

For my dollar, Shane is one of the great westerns, one of those stories of the expansion into the west and foretelling other great Western stories that explore the nature and fate of the gun-fighter like The Unforgiven,  Beyond the loose definition of the Western genre, it's also, simply, a great film.  Beautifully shot, well-acted, nuanced and better than you likely remember.

Contextually, the book the movie was based on and faithfully adapted from (and which JAL and I read in class in 7th grade if memory serves) was released in 1949, four years after the closing of WWII.  That the book was told in a first-person perspective from the eyes of a child and the movie mostly retains that POV, makes sense.  At it's heart, the story speaks to the naivete of what we see when we look at violence as an heroic act, of putting the gunman on a pedestal - as both writers of Western novels and Hollywood have always done.  In 1949 and 1953, one can imagine all the GI's returning from WWII who had to endure the questions of both the folks who had seen the war from newsreels and kids who saw it as a comic-book adventure against cartoonish Japs and Krauts.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bear Attack Watch: The Revenant (2015)

About five minutes after the bear attack in The Revenant (2015), I started to get a sinking feeling, and as the movie unspooled, the sinking feeling grew deeper and deeper.  I like to think I have middle-of-the-road taste in movies.  I like to think I can appreciate a dumb slapstick comedy - but I'll almost never pay to see a new one.  I like to think I can enjoy a standard actioner - but I don't know that I've gone to see one in the theater in years.  I've not seen The Expendables franchise and, sorry team, the Fast and the Furious franchise holds as much interest for me as hearing you describe your dreams at length.   I like to think I can muddle my way through art-house, but rarely bother.  And Oscar Bait movies generally bore me to tears.

What hit me as the movie progressed is:  I've become an arbitrarily picky movie watcher.  There's no science to my taste, no real sense to it.  But, oh my god, am I hard on anything that actually tries.

I'm the guy who didn't particularly like The Revenant.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Duke Watch: The Cowboys (1972)

It's interesting to see The Duke in a lead role in a 70's-era Western.  If the 1960's ushered in the modern era of filmmaking and the Spaghetti Western turned the genre on its ear, by the 1972 release of The Cowboys, the western had been fertile territory for telling stories stripped down to their essence.   By the late 1960's and into the 1970's, "realism" in violence on the screen had begun to creep in, or, at least, the horror of being shot had become part of the package.

The Cowboys is a bit of a fascinating movie, maybe not flawlessly executed, but it does double duty as both a coming-of-age film and a reminder of both the lives of our forebears in a fictional context (kids were working stiffs up until the 1940's), and of what we thought of as reasonable content for an all-ages audience in 1972.

In short, the movie would never, ever get made today, and it's likely that showing the movie to kids the same age as the ones in the film, despite the PG rating, would likely get you fired.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Spaghetti Watch-tern: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

I vaguely remember my dad explaining Spaghetti Westerns to me at some point in high school while we watched High Plains Drifter on cable on a Saturday, but I didn't watch The Man With No Name Trilogy until college when JAL took me to the Paramount to watch The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and I fell in love with a movie the way you do when you're 20.  I followed up quickly with the two others and then, in that era where you paid extra for letter-boxed movies on VHS, I got my hands on Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

Expect no objectivity from me when discussing Sergio Leone's sweeping epic.  From Woody Strode entering the frame in the first scene to Claudia Cardinale carrying water jugs out to the railroad workers, there's not a frame of the movie I don't think hits all the right notes.  Now, it's not an obvious and easy movie to watch.  It unspools slowly and steadily, but isn't the sort of movie that's quick to lay out the plot for the audience lest they get lost, and it's rife with operatic symbolism and themes, and it does not care if you're keeping up.  The movie is too busy being exactly the movie Sergio Leone wanted to make, complete with Charles Bronson as the anonymous harmonica playing gunslinger and one of the best of the Leone/ Morricone collaborations.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Audrey Totter!

December 20th is the 95th Birthday of actress Audrey Totter!  I suppose that makes the timing of this post Audrey Totter-Day Eve.

Ms. Totter starred in a terrific run of films, and had one of her breakout appearances as a source of temptation for the always terrific John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Ms. Totter's character caused a bit of jealousy in Lana Turner.  People, if you can give Lana Turner a moment of pause, clearly you're a force to be reckoned with.

The first movie I saw in which Ms. Totter got top billing was The Set-Up, and it's an absolutely terrific bit of acting under the direction of Robert Wise, but I'd also point you toward Tension, which is a terrific example of noir (and also has Cyd Charisse and Richard Basehart!).  In this one, Totter blows everyone else on screen right out of the frame.   I'd also recommend The Unsuspected to see her alongside Claude Rains and playing a wide range in a single film.

That's sort of what I think of now when I consider Ms. Totter's films.  She wasn't a character actor, and in all of her movies, she manages to do what better actors pull off - and that's too completely fill the character in a unique way and disappear into the role, but still retain the ability to make you notice them.  Her roles in Man or Gun and Tension couldn't be more different, but she's terrific in both movies.

In the 50's, Ms. Totter began working in both film and television, she starred in series like Cimarron City and Medical Center, and retired from the screen with her final televised appearance in 1984 on Murder, She Wrote.

Today, Ms. Totter is still living in Southern California, and through a terrific series of internet blips by way of Jenifer, on Sunday morning I received a video in my email that made my year.   The video is of Audrey Totter sending Jenifer and me best wishes.  The video absolutely blew my mind.  It's like someone you watch at the movies turning to the screen and saying, "Oh, hello, Ryan."

Special thanks to Ms. Totter's granddaughter, voice artist, Eden Totter.  (Eden is super-great, by the way.)

Happy Birthday, Ms. Totter!  We wish you the best on your birthday and will be spending the holiday break catching up on some of your movies we haven't yet seen.

PS.  If you ever want to know what it would be like to be a detective in the presence of Audrey Totter, I highly recommend the experimental first-person movie, Lady in the Lake, based on the Raymond Chandler novel.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Man or Gun (1958)

It's hard to describe what this movie is about without making it sound like a movie full of crazy people, but maybe that's the remarkable thing about this flick...  the movie actually makes the idea work.

Man or Gun (1958) finds a drifter coming to a rowdy frontier town - one who won't say who he is - who seems to have a seemingly supernatural power with a gun, leaving the townsfolk to ask "is it the man or the gun?"  And, of course, a whole lot of people get shot in that bloodless manner of a 1950's western.

The drifter no sooner arrives than stumbles upon (of course) a powerful family that rules and harasses the townfolk, making the tiny berg unsafe for women and children.  Powerful enough that one of them is wanted for $2000 and is still living publicly in the town - until he crosses paths with the drifter, that is.  The drifter won't give up his name, and comes to first be called "'Maybe' Smith", and falls under the watchful eye of Audrey Totter as Fran Dare (that, people, is a hell of a name).  Fran sees a chance to use the man or gun to push back against the dastardly Corleys.

I actually quite liked the movie for a small western that I'd not heard much about.  It's a story about superstition versus reality versus what you see with your own eyes.  And, in no small way, its about whether guns are any way to answer a dispute in a civilized world, even when you're trying to make a better world against others waving guns in your face.

Macdonald Smith does a good, straighfaced hero - even is he feels a bit long in the tooth for the role, and Audrey Totter is in top form as the woman running the local saloon who has a lot invested in the stranger.  Unlike FBI Girl, it felt like the director knew what he had in Totter and let her show her range a great bit more.

Anyway, not groundbreaking, but one of those movies you're a bit surprised how enjoyable it was when you really haven't heard anything about it before.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Movie Watch 2012: Comanche Station

PaulT and I journeyed to The Alamo Drafthouse on 6th street for the occasionally-occurring* Alamo Cinema Club.  Both Paul I really dig this experience.  Its a bit like the better bits of film school, but with no quiz.

Tonight's screening was Comanche Station featuring Randolph Scott and directed by Budd Boetticher.

As was much discussed post-screening, Comanche Station feels very much like the transition between old school westerns and the coming Spaghetti Western or grittier Western ushered in by the likes of Sam Peckinpah.  While somewhat coded, the movie suggests some of the harsher realities of the frontier, and partially due to the era portrayed and material its working with, doesn't fit neatly into modern molds of dealing with how the west was settled.

Mostly, its a story about a frontiersman who barters a trade for an anglo woman captured by Comanches.  At a closed trading post, they meet up with a sly character from Cody's past who can ride along with them to provide protection, but who is also a threat to both Cody and the woman he's transporting back to her home.

In many ways, its a movie about assumptions versus reality with the characters.  And it works.  The narrative is clockwork tight, the cast small and the feeling of distrust among the members of the party is poisonous.

Anyhow, a lot was said about the work of Budd Boetticher, an independent producer operating just outside the studio system, and I'm curious to see his other westerns (all featuring Randolph Scott).

*its like movie geek Brigadoon

Friday, December 31, 2010

Signal Watch Watches: True Grit

I don't really know what to say about True Grit.  I assume many of you have seen the movie at this point.

I give it...  eight and a half thumbs up. 

I was very pleased with the stylized dialog (which I took as the mannered retelling of Mattie's tale, to some extent), which the actors all handled remarkably well. 

The past few years Jeff Bridges seems to have moved from all-purpose leading man to top-flight actor in the public esteem (he was always good, and I don't dispute this), and here he seems to really earn it as Rooster Cogburn.  And if you've been watching Matt Damon the past few years, I don't think its any surprise that he's really very good as LeBoef, the flashy Texas Ranger in search of the same man as our unlikely duo.  As Mattie Ross, young actor Hailee Steinfeld really does go toe to toe with both Damon and Bridges, and no doubt we'll see her again, hopefully not moving into the typical fare offered up to young women in Hollywood.  With a Coen Bros. pedigree, I assume she can continue to find A-List work, but we'll see (I weep for young Dakota Fanning blankly wandering through scenes in the Twilight series).

The story isn't anything that new or innovative (but may appear so to film viewers in 2010 who rarely touch Westerns).  What's striking is that the Coens so deftly move from a film like A Serious Man (which I really need to rewatch now that its on HBO), to a remake of a legendary piece of genre film and manage to put their stamp on it while staying within the confines of the Western.

Brolin's part is perhaps smaller than you would guess, he being Josh Brolin and all, but he leaves an impression, and I loved how the role was scripted.  Add in the best use of Barry Pepper I think I've seen, and the supporting cast gets a nod, too.

I could have gladly stayed with the characters and story for an additional half-hour, had the story sprawled a bit more.  And when was the last time you weren't doing mental calculus based upon where you knew you had to be in the plot, versus how long you were going to have to sit there?  I had a theater director once tell me that he knew a play was good if he didn't check his watch, and at no point, was that what I was doing.

Unlike at least one of our Corpsmen (Nathan C.), I am not a film score aficionado.  But I had no doubt I was hearing Carter Burwell's work about 1/4 way into the movie.  I like Burwell's work, and its always good to see him working again with the Coens.

Anyhow, I don't really want to go on and on, but I did want to salute the movie as one of the best things I saw in the theater this year and recommend you catch it in the theater.