You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Westerns’ tag.

Like Prometheus, I guess I never really truly imagined the day would come. Prometheus doesn’t even feel real to me — the Alien cycle is the closest thing to Star Wars I have in terms of movie fandom, and not even those damn dirty execs want to touch that franchise after two clunky AVP flicks. Prometheus won’t have the iconic Xenomorph, but it’s got Stringer Bell, so the excitement factor is through the roof. 2012 is officially the next 2009 — John Carter, Prometheus, Total Recall, Cosmopolis, even The Avengers (which was good!), and I suppose The Dark Knight Rises (don’t care!) — and now I’m hearing news that a real live, actual factual Blade Runner sequel is on the books, but for truth? It’s a good time to be a scifi fan, at least on the big screen. On TV… I don’t know. People seem to like that AMC zombie show.

On June 1st, Prometheus lands (using Halo marketing-speak), and it’s success will not only signal the future of this series within a series, but how Blade Runner 2 might shake out. In my opinion, Ridley Scott hasn’t made a good movie since Gladiator — but has he had to? Most filmmakers can’t lay a claim to three of the greatest movies ever: Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, in this case, but Ridley Scott can. But now he’s doing something very, very important to the landscape of science-fiction — coming back to it.

Sure, we may tire of retreads and sequels, but the universe of Blade Runner at least, is rich (Alien is often said to be better unexplored, I agree) and inhabiting a subgenre screaming out to be revisited — hasn’t been done proper since ’03, though we’ve been getting recent respites in other fronts like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and a Ghost in the Shell… Lucas Special Edition every so often. All of these things have been hugely influenced by the 1982 greatest-SF-movie-of-all-time, and have roots in cyberpunk’s 90s glory days. I’d love to return, and maybe this new Blade Runner will usher in a new generation of creators tuned into artificial intelligence and cyborg proxy soldiers, to whom the name “Tetsuo” means spinning dick-drills and giant nuclear babies that explode and destroy Tokyo.

I wonder if this new Blade Runner will be influenced at all by the over-the-top Japanese sensibilities that were themselves influenced by the original tech-noir, and the debut novel of the godfather of cyberpunk. That would be a strange and rare cycle between east and west that I’ve only so far seen in westerns. There’s a back and forth in the lineage of chambara (that the right term?) samurai and westerns, which are linked thematically; each generation become spritual successors of each other — between Ford, Kurosawa, Leone, and now Miike. It’s interesting, and if it happened to cyberpunk I feel like it’d be as natural.

Although thematically all cyberpunk is pretty much the same — what is human? What… do robots do? How fun would VR really be? — and not as poetic in this regard with the gunslinger/samurai, ritualistic violence and honor parallel, Blade Runner might use a touch of exploration, though being novel certainly didn’t help it commercially the first time around. I just think that by 2016, maybe 2017 when considering a two-three year turnaround time for Scott (after a movie set in the Middle East following Prometheus), we’ve seen it all. Cyberpunk was considered dead — for Christ’s sake there’s a subgenre called postcyberpunk — Blade Runner’s had its day in the sun.

Look Familiar?

But there is something interesting, something I like to stress as often as its relevant (not often) is women in science-fiction. Two of the most inexpilcably successful SF franchises of the day — Resident Evil, going five strong and soon to be six, and Underworld, on its fourth — feature female protagonists. So we’re getting there, but how about good characters, and good movies? Alien was both, and we’ll get that again with Noomi Rapace in Prometheus — and then with Blade Runner 2, believe it or not.

Some of the earliest news on this recent development is that Scott and co. (Hampton, but so far no Peoples, I gather) are pursuing a strong female lead, and this is very exciting.

So what’s to concern over?

Well, I suppose that this is just another in the line of redos and continuations of old properties, but hey — Blade Runner is Blade Runner. I love The Thing ’82, so I was super-excited when the new one was coming out, but Blade Runner is like… personal top five, and without a doubt the greatest science-fiction movie of all time. More of the same would be a hell of a thing.

For more on Blade Runner, check out the Blade Runner Directory

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So you like Westerns, but don’t know where to start? There’s a great many varieties of Western out there, many good (Django), many bad (The Searchers), and here’s some that may help you do what I’m doing right now, which is starting out in exploration of this on-and-off Hollywood pastime…

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

If you’re a fan of action movies period, check this movie out. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe headline this gritty, energetic readaptation, which makes me think it must have been a pretty difficult shoot, but they’re great talents flanked by familiar and welcomed faces (Ben Foster, Alan Tudyk). The story is classic, and the final gun battle heaves with its narrative weight. The shootout is cathartic, and the resolution satisfying. All around a great flick, in the vein of Collateral or The Rundown — modern Hollywood action movies that’ll surprise you with just how good they are, and just how far a good screenplay can take something.

The Proposition (2005)

Ugh, I don’t know. This might be your cup, but it ain’t mine. I had mixed feelings going in, expecting something grim and overly violent (thumbs up) with not-so-successful artistic pretensions (thumbs down), but what I got was really neither of those things. The violence is honestly pretty minimal, and the philosophical yammerings are infrequent and not that offensive. What is offensive is that the movie seems to neglect the audience, forget that its duty is to be entertaining. I can’t stand it in movies when the audio and video are grating and hard to look at, respectively, simultaneously. What’s accomplished, then? I will say that Ray Winstone’s character and performance were the sole saving grace. He did a great job, but damn–the opening ten minutes or so held so much promise. It’s Apocalypse Now in the Old West… Go. But alas, it was stopped before then, and now they’re just floundering.

You might like this movie. A lot of people do, and it’s perhaps worth a fair shake.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Alright, back we are. This is a Coens Brothers movie, so we can expect a story about money and people on the run and corruption — and we get it, but this is actually based on preexisting material, a novel by Cormac McCarthy, which is allegedly just Blood Meridian-lite. I’ve yet to read either, though I did do a little of The Road and thought it was trash, so I might have to revisit that one, or just watch the John Hillcoat-directed adaptation (he also did The Proposition). Anyway, No Country is a neo-western, or a modern western, so it’s taking the ideals and scenarios (it’s in the title) and transplanting them to the modern day, although technically this is a period piece, taking place in the 80s. It’s a fun movie with a great scare at the end that always gets me.

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

What’s to be said of this little-known, pretty obscure foreign film? Well whatever there is, I’ll add this: be sure to check out the extended edition, which has one of my favorite scenes of all time, where Angel Eyes tours through the bombed out Confederate camp to Il Forte by Ennio Morricone. Really powerful stuff.

Unforgiven (1992)

Gladiator, Return of the King, and No Country for Old Men were among the few Best Picture nominated movies that won and deserved it. Unforgiven is certainly in this category, also being nominated for Best Screenplay by David Webb Peoples, who you might know as the co-writer of Blade Runner (and Soldier). This is a truly beautiful movie, one that discusses the tragedies of the Old West with grace and grit. It might be a little slow, I especially think that English Bob’s section goes on a bit long for no conceivable payoff, but by the end, when Clint Eastwood faces down a gallery of enemies with the weight of cinematic history on his shoulders, it’s all worth it. And the scene where he admits to be afraid of death brings a tear to my eye every time.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)

Familiar settings and scenes abound in this action and star-packed Korean western. Like a lot of modern genre films, and in particular modern westerns, this one pays homage to those that came before it, though The Good, the Bad, the Weird isn’t as inaccessibly as Sukiyaki Western Django in this regard, which is more genre-literate. This movie would rather be just plain entertaining, and it’s got a number of pretty spectacular set pieces, all the while looking incredibly good. One of the few colorful westerns out there. GBW also gets a mention here because it somehow manages to reference The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West essentially at the same moment.

Serenity (2005)

Like westerns? Like space? Like Cowboy Bebop? Here’s a movie with Nathan Fillion. Your welcome.

Major spoiler for Cowboy Bebop

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker whose greatest asset and most obvious flaw is his writing. The film I’d use to illustrate this point is definitely Kill Bill Vol. 2, where we can find a huge disparity between the beginning areas and ending of the movie.

Overall, the movie is a masterful celebration of the mythical heroes, fabulous archetypes, wacky styles, and diverse music of world cinema over the years. Whereas the first volume was to the creator considered to be the eastern homage (with western undercurrents), where in one scene the young girl straight out of Battle Royale defends Lady Snowblood from the warrior clad in iconic Bruce Lee costume, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is the western (with eastern undercurrents). It’s a logical prgression in terms of genre; just as Fistful of Dollars borrowed from Yojimbo, so too did their respective genres. The gunslinger in the spaghetti western is just like the samurai in the jidaigeki film, and something like this is very, very base knowledge for a film freak like Tarantino, whose entire career has been a love letter to film.

Kill Bill Vol. 2 is postmodern and it’s a semi sequel. It embraces the confines of the medium while defying it, and there’s nothing else orthodox about it. It is slightly less ‘fun’ than the first volume, where there is no anime segment (it wouldn’t have been appropriate) and the timeline seems more straightforward and internally logical. For example, the past for two characters is tied together by Pai Mei, and the Brides training sets up part of her fight with Daryl Hannah. That being said, it’s possible that we might simply be getting used to the scattered timeline.

Indeed we’ve seen other Tarantino films. And three of the four before Vol. 2 have had nonlinear timelines. We’re becoming familar with the Tarantino way, and were becoming familiar with these characters. This is important because Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a film about culmination, bringing everything together for entertainment with a sense of gravity. I mean Christ – the movie’s called Kill Bill; it’d be like if we called the Star Wars saga “The Showdown Between Luke and Darth Vader,” or the series Cowboy Bebop “Spike Dies.” We’re always looking forward, and so the climax of the movie has incredible weight placed upon it. It’s with tremendous thought that Tarantino has arrived at this point without falling flat.

And yet, some areas feel weak. The ending of the movie, and by extension of course, the saga, the mythic revenge narrative, is handled excellently. The conftrontation between the Bride and Bill is just as exciting as that between she and Lucy Liu. Yet there is little action, which would throw it into huge juxtaposition with the aforementioned sequence – the Crazy 88 scene rivals the Oldboy hallway fight and the never-ending shot from The Protector in terms of craziest action scene of the decade. Instead, each word packs the punch required to support the weight of an entire preceding feature length setup. Contrast this with a minor scene between Bud and the Bride, where Bud threatens her with a can of mace, offering the choice of mace or flashlight.

The scene goes on and on and we can infer that it precedes an escape scene. We want to get the guys setting up the escape by burying the Bride in a coffin over with so that we can see how she escapes, a classic setup. But this bit of dialogue, which is one sided and meant to be darkly tongue-in-cheek and mildly villainous, even comes before the setup to the escape! Once it takes too long, it becomes boring and we’re witness to Tarantino seemingly indulging in himself and overwriting in the sense of writing too much. And then it goes on longer.

As great a movie Kill Bill Vol. 2 is, as much as it heralds a more blatant and more celebratory era of Tarantino’s filmography-de-homage, it does suffer from Tarantinoisms. If you like Tarantino – this doesn’t present a problem. But strangely, that number is dwindling, even after the rather successful Inglourious Basterds.

 

Tarantino is famous for cool dialogue and infamous for his passion for cinema. His next movie, Django Unleashed, just seems so obvious that I face-palmed when I read the title – it might seem he’s been on an homage kick as of late, and this just falls in line, but no, appreciating the history of film has been a constant in the filmmaker’s career. Those two elements, dialogue and cinemaphilia, are what make the writer/director great in my eyes, and often intermix, whether it’s Samuel L. Jackson talking about John Woo movies or the girls in Death Proof arguing over Vanishing Point/Pretty in Pink, it’s all great stuff, and it seems to come so naturally to the guy.

Part of what makes his dialogue so good is not what typically makes writing great. Tarantino dropped out of high school halfway through, so I imagine his literary background is relatively small in comparison with other writers of his kind. He also said “hell no” to film school, but I don’t know what they teach in film school. So his diction and syntax and all that conventional mechanical stuff isn’t what makes Tarantino’s writing, what makes his writing is his talent to create cool characters. Jules in Pulp Fiction, The Bride in Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds, and of course Zoe Bell as Zoe Bell in Death Proof all have mythological depth in terms of cinematic and genre language.

That, and they’re just really cool characters, and once Tarantino takes the massive effort to construct a very cool character, it becomes easy for him to make them say things that are equally cool, which is the part that translates directly to the screen – and it seems effortless. For the audience, these guys are just fun to watch.

However.

As of late, Tarantino has caught a lot of flack I feel, and I’m beginning to notice that each successive film he makes gets worse and worse paced. Reservoir Dogs ran at a fairly brisk pace, but Inglourious Basterds and Death Proof were bizarre with their unbalanced chapters. I feel like as Tarantino delves deeper and deeper into genre revisionism, he alienates certain audiences (not so many ‘got’ Death Proof, but Inglourious had general appeal for the most part) and it doesn’t help that the movies drag, and some of the dialogue bits are just too much.

So I’ll start this with what some consider to be his greatest movie, Pulp Fiction, and work my way up to Inglourious Basterds, which I just watched back-to-back with… Ponyo?

I liked Ponyo.

As a not so avid viewer of the films of Hayao Miyazaki, I haven't quite been desensitized to his message, so I ended up enjoying this quite a bit

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