Tag Archive: westerns


Bone Tomahawk

Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s 2015 film release Bone Tomahawk starts as a classic Western about life on the frontier–living at home, visiting the local saloon, working in the local Sheriff’s office.  It quickly becomes a genre-bending damsel in distress/ “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” picture and much more.  Several other genre elements are woven together to create a solid, serious drama that is equal parts suspense thriller and gritty, meaty Western that rises above most efforts to make a classic Western in the past 45 years, if you forgive it for one scene that dips into gruesome, in-your-face horror.  Put Bone Tomahawk up there with Silverado.  It’s a far better Western than even the much celebrated Unforgiven.

Bone Tomahawk follows four men as they pursue the mysterious captors of a local frontier doctor–a woman (played by Lili Simmons)–and the criminal she was operating on (played by David Arquette) and the on-hand sheriff’s deputy (played by Evan Jonigkeit).  It’s a simple story, yet it couldn’t be more unique in its execution.  In possibly Kurt Russell’s finest bit of reserved, serious acting ever on film, he plays Sheriff Hunt.  Made of the same mettle as Gary Cooper in High Noon and John Wayne in The Searchers, he is relentless in his pursuit.  Patrick Wilson is equally relentless as the husband of the missing doctor.  His leg has been wounded from a fall and so he must forge ahead limping along throughout the film as he sleuths out what is really going on.  Think of him as a mix of Gary Cooper in Sergeant York and Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window Lost’s Matthew Fox is the slick but honorable, impeccably dressed gentleman barfly, who once had a thing for the doctor, and volunteers to help find her.  The posse is rounded out by the now crotchety character actor from film and TV, Richard Jenkins.  He’s droll and provides a different flavor of humor along the way.

Bone Tomahawk movie poster

Zahler isn’t afraid to let the movie flow at its own pace, and allow the viewer to soak up the scenery, the Western tropes, the camaraderie of the team as they eat and sleep and take their horses forward through the long desert way.  It’s an 1890s Assault on Precinct 13, only like High Plains Drifter the nature of the mystery is hidden from us for so long that the anticipation warrants calling this out as a top-notch suspense thriller.  Who stole the townsfolk and are they still alive?  And what is that strange music we hear in the wind before bodies start falling?  Like The Ghost and the Darkness, you want to run away from what is out there waiting for you–this feels like a ghost story, maybe even every frontier family’s personal nightmare come to life.

Continue reading

The-Hateful-Eight

No one said this job was supposed to be easy.

Quentin Tarantino filmed his latest Western, The Hateful Eight, in 70 mm Panavision so it should look beautiful on the big screen.  He’s hired Ennio Morricone, composer of the scores for A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, for the ultimate throwback feel.  By all accounts The Hateful Eight looks like it will be an interesting ride.

Kurt Russell plays another tough-guy role.  We’ll hopefully add John “The Hangman” Ruth to the likes of his classic characters Burton and Plissken.  A few years after the Civil War, Ruth is transporting a fugitive named Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a town called Red Rock.  After picking up a bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) along the way, they hole up in a log cabin to seek shelter from a snowstorm, and learn the place is filled with various other baddies: The Sheriff (Walton Goggins), The Mexican (Demian Bichir), The Little Man (Tim Roth), The Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), and the Confederate (Bruce Dern).  Who will get out alive?

Hateful Eight comic-Con SDCC 2015 poster Tarentino

Check out the latest trailer for The Hateful Eight:

Continue reading

Preacher

Developed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, and Sam Catlin for AMC, Preacher is an adaptation of the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, and published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint.  The full trailer premiered Sunday during The Walking Dead and we have it below in case you missed it. 

Preacher is a series of 81 comic books that wrapped in 2000, available since then in nine trade editions available at your local comic book stores or here from Amazon.com.  It’s a Western for the most part, and there’s plenty of John Ford influence in the comic book.  The books and TV series follows Jesse Custer, a conflicted preacher in a small Texas town who combines with a powerful supernatural creature that has escaped from heaven.  Along with his ex-girlfriend, Tulip (played by Ruth Negga), and an Irish vampire named Cassidy (played by Joe Gilgun), the three embark on a journey to find God.

Here’s the first trailer released for AMC’s Preacher:

Continue reading

Hateful Eight comic-Con SDCC 2015 poster Tarentino

No film footage or panel footage has yet hit the Interwebs, but meanwhile Quentin Tarantino released the above, beautiful, retro-Western style poster to promote his 2016 release, The Hateful Eight, in advance of his panel at San Diego Comic-Con today.

But the bigger news is that he disclosed that iconic composer Ennio Morricone will be creating the score for the film, his first Western movie score in more than 40 years.  Morricone is known best for Western film classics A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Two Mules for Sister Sara.  More recently he’s covered every other genre, including scores for Footloose, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Red Sonja, Once upon a Time in America, Cinema Paradiso, The Untouchables, Wolf, Mission to Mars, and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

Hateful Eight cast

Look for The Hateful Eight in theaters January 8, 2016.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

The Magnificent Seven(1960) James Coburn and Steve McQueen

With Quentin Tarentino’s The Hateful Eight due in theaters in November, we can only hope Westerns have another shot at making a comeback.  Will a remake of one of the all-time, best-reviewed classic Westerns indicate other studios jumping on the bandwagon?

Actor Peter Sarsgaard (Green Lantern, Orphan, The Skeleton Key) is the latest addition to the cast of a remake of The Magnificent Seven being finalized for a 2017 release by MGM and Sony.  Based on a reworked script by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and John Lee Hancock (Snow White And The Huntsman) from the classic John Sturges film starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, the new version will be directed by Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Shooter, King Arthur, Training Day).  The villain in the original 1960 story of an oppressed Mexican farming village seeking a small band of mercenaries for protection was played by Eli Wallach.

The only actor we think is missing from this remake is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who we would cast as Brynner’s badass hero.  Still, the list of leading actors revealed so far is promising: Denzel Washington (2 Guns, Unstoppable, The Manchurian Candidate, Training Day, Philadelphia, Much Ado About Nothing), Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World, Moneyball, Everwood), Vincent D’Onofrio (Men in Black, Jurassic World, Daredevil), Byung-hun Lee (Terminator Genisys, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, RED 2), Matt Bomer (White Collar, Tru Calling, Chuck), and Ethan Hawke (Gattaca, Dead Poet’s Society, White Fang, Alive, Training Day, Assault on Precinct 13) should come together to form an interesting ensemble cast.

Byung-Hun Lee in I Saw the Devil

Byung-Hun Lee on horseback in I Saw the Devil.

The 1960 cast was as gritty as they come:  Brynner and McQueen were joined by Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Robert Vaughn with Brad Dexter and Horst Buchholz.

If you think a remake of one of the greatest Westerns of all time is a bad idea, recall that The Magnificent Seven itself was a remake of Akira Kurasawa’s equally superb The Seven Samurai from 1954, starring Takashi Shimura and Toshirô Mifune.  We’d also count Washington, Bomer, Hawke, Lee, and Pratt among our favorite actors in Hollywood, so this will be worth a shot.

Continue reading

Arnold zombie Breslin Maggie

Arnold Schwarzenegger is starring in a new zombie movie, and it’s not a comedy?

Michael Fassbender is starring in a Western?

It can only be Trailer Park: The “What the ?” Edition.  Check out two new trailers below, after the break.

It’s always fun to be blind-sided by unexpected previews.  Today’s two movies weren’t in late 2014’s trade papers, or they might have made our All the Movies You’ll Want to See in 2015 list.

What’s it with all the cool, new zombie material being previewed this month?  Since 28 Days Later I hadn’t gotten the bite yet for the genre, and suddenly zombie TV series iZombie, The Returned, and Les Revenants are knocking everything out of the DVR priority list?  Did we time-skip into a parallel dimension?

Arnold’s new movie, Maggie, is completely surprising.  The first trailer out of the gates looks great.  Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin plays his zombie-infected daughter in her last weeks before completely going zombie.  Arnold’s tired and troubled father looks like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.  If the dark and measured pace of the trailer reflects the final cut of the film, this may be a horror thriller to check out.

Fassbender Slow West

Then there’s this quirky new Western, Slow West.  The film has generated some decent buzz already.  A Western filmed in New Zealand absolutely looks a bit off.  But the steely-eyed Fassbender as a John Wayne in The Searchers / Han Solo type?  That may deserve a casting award.

Slow West follows a boy on a quest across the sea to America to track down his lost love.  John Maclean directs a relatively unknown cast, Fassbender aside.  The trailer carries a bit of British-influenced flare, and the vibe of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s epic immigrant picture Far and Away. 

Continue reading

Dead Mans Hand cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Who would have thought we’d be discussing a book in the second decade of the 21st century featuring new stories of the Old West?  Titan Books has released such a work with Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West, bringing together short stories from 23 authors that mash-up the Old West with science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror.

The Dead Man’s Hand is of course the legendary card hand last held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot down by Jack McCall in Deadwood, South Dakota back in 1876.  The superstitions carried forward by those cards–believed to be black aces and eights–fuels the magic and “weird” behind the stories in this compilation.

Fans of Louis L’Amour who may have open minds for the extremes of what might qualify as an Old West story should find at least a few good tales in Dead Man’s Hand.  Like Mike Resnick’s story “The Hell-bound Stagecoach,” set in Arizona Territory circa 1885, it chronicles riders in a stagecoach who don’t quite remember how they ended up on the road bound for somewhere, as they encounter a proper lady who happens to be a good cook along the way.  Resnick’s story is steeped in classic lore of the Old West era.

Jeff Bridges as Wild Bill Hickok

Editor John Joseph Adams attempts to summarize the genre in his introduction as having its roots in the works of Robert E. Howard, Gene Autry’s serial The Phantom Empire, and the 1970s series The Wild, Wild, West, but Adams could look back farther to cowboy lore–stories created and shared by those stranded in desert storms, creations of the lost, hungry and thirsty, like those seeing mirages.  Like the story that would become Ghost Riders in the Sky, written by Stan Jones in 1948.  Jones recalled the story was first told to him back around 1926, and certainly that story was among many Old West tomes of the oral tradition circulating back to even before the Civil War.  Regardless of the earliest sources for such stories, they still entertain audiences in a world of cell phones, space travel, and the Internet.

Continue reading

plaza c

Humans gravitate toward benchmarks.  Anniversaries and events that end in zero, like 50th anniversaries.  Turning 20.  They like superlatives.  The biggest.  The best.  The fastest.  The youngest.  The oldest.  It’s human nature.

You never know what’s going to happen to you in a given day.  Maybe you meet someone new.  Maybe you work on a new project you hadn’t contemplated before.  Or, if you’re lucky, you wander into a new town and stumble upon something new.  Or something old.

It could be in any town in any city, but it just happens to be in a town you hadn’t planned on visiting, on a side jaunt along the way to someplace unrelated to where you now find yourself, staring up at an old building with a marquee.  A movie theater like any other old movie theater on any other main street across the Midwestern United States, that dot towns here and there.  Yet this one makes a surprising assertion.  This one claims to be the oldest.  If you find yourself in front of a theater like that, then you must be in Ottawa, Kansas, a quaint town about a half an hour’s drive south of Kansas City.

And like a trip to The Twilight Zone, the next thing you know you’ve paid the price of your ticket and you’re sitting alone in a movie theater, soaking up that old familiar place that smells like popcorn and feels like home.  You marvel at the gray metal 1930s art deco ceiling lights, the tall vintage curtains, and find yourself watching a film from 1903 that played in this very town in its opening months 109 years ago, then viewed by a crowd of turn of the century townsfolk from a very different turn of the century.  Like you, they were watching this movie for the first time, only they were watching it as the first movie they’d ever seen.

plaza a

Continue reading

Django Unchained - Still A

By C.J. Bunce

How does a Western get nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in 2013? As recently as two years ago the remake of True Grit was nominated for Best Picture and nine other nominations—but did not net a single win.  But would it have been nominated if it hadn’t been directed by the quirky directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen?  Five years earlier Brokeback Mountain, a film with a Western—or at least a cowboy– theme was also nominated for Best Picture, winning three of eight nominations.  It took director Ang Lee and a completely non-Western plot for that to happen.  Then you have to go back to Unforgiven in 1992, which actually won Best Picture and four of nine of its nominations, to find the last major, critically acclaimed Western.

What made Unforgiven win?  Certainly by supplying one of the two most popular Western actors of all time as the film’s lead helped, even if it was one of his more bland performances, with Clint Eastwood also serving as director. (Yes, John Wayne still remains the #1 most popular Western actor ever).  But more importantly, like the few notable Westerns since, it had a very non-standard plot for a Western.  With its gunfighter-turns-farmer-turns-gunfighter-one-last-time story, it was basically a dark sequel to John Wayne’s Angel and the Badman.  You could keep going—back to Dances with Wolves in 1990, an example of the “epic Western” which seemed to reward the director and acting efforts of rising star Kevin Costner more than the movie as a Western genre masterpiece.  Or back to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid in 1969, probably the last classic era Western to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, winning five awards, including a key win for the script by William Goldman.  Then go back to the also-quirky Cat Ballou in 1965 starring Jane Fonda—the rare Western notable for featuring a female lead.

Going back even further gets you into the classic era of Westerns, and throws you into the strange era of “epic Westerns” getting recognized by the Academy.  These were movies that in hindsight are really not as well done as many smaller pictures of the period, but their huge all-star casts and expensive sets made the films hard to ignore, such as How the West Was Won, The Alamo, and Giant.  Surprisingly you have to look back to the adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s Hondo starring John Wayne in 1953 to get back to the era of the “hero Western” as recipient of an Academy nod, a film up there with Shane and High Noon as successful and admired Westerns receiving acclaim by the Academy.

Schultz and Django

But if you put aside the classic Western and look at what has been selected by the Academy since the 1960s it makes a lot of sense that Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is not only a Best Picture nominee this year, but a real contender for the win.  Set in the South two years before the Civil War, the film follows a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) whose past owners lead him to meet up with German-born, dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Schultz’s next target is the wanted-dead-or-alive Brittle brothers, and only Django can help him literally recognize his bounty.  Schultz serves as mentor in survival and pursuit skills for Django who is squarely focused on rescuing long-lost wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  The search ultimately leads to a more complicated than necessary scheme to buy Broomhilda from infamous plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), if only his loyal house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) will not stand in the way.

So what is the formula for a successful Western in the 21st century and why should Django Unchained make the cut?

Continue reading

Despite an interesting premise and a good cast, Cowboys & Aliens never quite comes together.  How could a team-up like Jon Favreau, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Steven Spielberg not get this right?  Unfortunately, the movie is “just okay.”  It’s an example of what happens when you buy an idea without a great story to back it up.  And it’s what happens when it takes six A- list writers to craft a screenplay, based on a work that itself isn’t very interesting.

Cowboys & Aliens lacks most of the elements of good science fiction and qualifies as a western only because of the bundle of cliched characters, a beautiful desert hills setting, and all the horses.  That said, it may find an audience with those who have never seen a good western or appreciate a good science fiction story.  It could be dismissed as “another summer blockbuster romp, sure to please general audiences.”  With the fun premise, the stellar cast, producer Spielberg and director Favreau, it may get favorable initial box office returns, but it fails to live up to its potential to rival all the summer movies released this year.  It should be better than all the sequels released this summer.  But it’s not.  In comparison, it doesn’t quite match up to past summer hits like Independence Day or Men in Black.

It’s not as fun as a movie with the title Cowboys & Aliens should be.  I wasn’t looking for humorous by any means, but there was not one point in the packed movie house where the crowd had any reason to laugh, cheer, or gasp.  The story lacked tension and energy.  From scene to scene the characters didn’t convincingly indicate the gravity of their would-be, desperate situations.  And we were never quite pulled into the world in any gripping way–you keep waiting for something to happen, then the movie is over.

Fortunately the film has no relation to the graphic novel created by Scott Rosenberg and written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley.  The graphic novel is a simple analog of alien imperialism over humans as a reflection of European imperialism over the native Americans, and that’s about it.  Not enough to turn into a good comic book, let alone a good movie.  Add to that the six screenplay contributers (including Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who wrote the iffy 2009 Star Trek script) who couldn’t pull a complete story out of a good idea, and proved yet again that a story written by committee rarely works.  It is frustrating that an idea as fun as mixing aliens into the 1800s Old West is so hard to make awesome.  Even kids mixing toy soldiers and science fiction figures could come up with a fun story. 

The best of the film is the cast. As for the lead cast, Olivia Wilde’s character Ella was the stand-out.  She seemed to do the best she could with her role and, as with her with roles in Tron: Legacy and House, M.D. , she is fun to watch.  And Daniel Craig delivered an excellent performance as the western movie drifter with the secret past, Jake Lonergan.  But his character was put into too many strange circumstances, and we never got to see how a man in the 1880s would react to aliens vs someone in the 2010s.  Daniel Craig’s past roles have been so good, this one probably falls toward the bottom of the list.  Audiences are starving to see the next Han Solo or Indiana Jones role for Harrison Ford.  Billed as Ford’s “Rooster Cogburn” performance, Ford’s, Colonel Dolarhyde (a really bad name, by the way) is a one-note character.  The audience wants to like this performance, but we don’t know how we’re supposed to feel about this character.  At one point we’re told he’s tough and we feel he’s meant to be the traditional man in the black hat, but everything else indicates otherwise, and we don’t have enough back story to know what to think.

As for the supporting cast, Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers, Medium, Leverage, Law and Order, Lost, Enterprise) shows how great a supporting actor he is as the town’s preacher.  Keith Carradine also delivers a believable performance as the sheriff.  But as with Favreau’s Iron Man 2, another annoying Sam Rockwell performance almost reduces his scenes to cringe-worthy.

One more positive thing–I loved the “arm gun”.  It’s not in the graphic novel, so it’s a great addition and helps make Daniel Craig’s every move as cool as he is as James Bond.

The movie might have been more exciting if they hardly showed us the aliens at all (like the shark in Jaws).  When they appear, it is too much too often, and the aliens were a mix of creatures we had seen before, lifeless like the bugs from Starship Troopers, grotesque like Kuato from Total Recall, and the scenes are shot just like the aliens in the Alien movies.  The creatures should be terrifying, to the point that the humans should be running for their lives screaming–especially for people who have no concept of space travel or extraterrestrials.  They just aren’t.

The soundtrack starts with a good clip but ultimately relies too much on what sounded like a modern electric guitar ballad instead of a full orchestral sound–an epic, grandiose score you’d expect from a western, which might have helped save the film.

Not that my standards for a video rental should be any different than for a movie in the theater, but this may play better on video or late-night cable.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a few of the western scenes again, just not enough to buy another movie ticket.  The opening, for example, gets off to the right start, with Craig’s character executing a fight scene dive straight from Rio Bravo.

Unfortunately, this one left me wishing for a real good western or good sci-fi movie.

Cowboys & Aliens is in theaters.  2.5 of 5 stars.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

%d bloggers like this: