14 posts categorized "Western"

February 09, 2016

Jane Got a Gun

Jane-got-a-gunGiven America’s ongoing gun crisis related to daily mass shootings (many occurring in cinemas), this film’s provocative title gives more than a little reason for pause.

Perhaps all too unsurprisingly, “Jane Got a Gun” fulfills its title-hinted expectation of an exploitation western romance picture with barely a hint of any post-modern-proto-feminist intent that mature viewers might hope for.

The film is less a blend of genres than one big mess.

Natalie Portman’s title as producer leads to some head scratching about why an actress of her caliber and influence would choose such a sub-par melodrama populated by cartoon villains.

The wobbly script (by Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, and Joel Edgerton) gets the better of the otherwise reliable director Gavin O’Connor (“Miracle”), who seems content to take home a paycheck for a movie he won’t be putting on his resume. It’s notable that director Lynne Ramsay (“Morvern Callar”) unceremoniously walked off the film just days into its 2013 production, taking several crew and cast members with her.

Natalie Portman gives a respectable performance as Jane Hammond, a hardscrabble prairie wife to Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich). Their New Mexico Territory farm home is built against a high bluff to ward against invaders, except from the front. “Ham” arrives home shot multiple times by a gang of outlaws called the Bishop Boys. Protecting her wounded husband sends Jane soliciting for help from her (jilted) former fiancé Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton).

Intermittent flashbacks take the audience out of the action to make room for Ewan McGregor’s generic mustachioed villain Colin McCann. The only thing missing is a clip of Colin McCann tying Jane to a railroad track. Jane’s troubled past connection to McCann pretends to pass for motivation in a movie doesn’t know where to shoot.


Rated R. 97 mins. (C-) (Two Stars out of Five - no halves)

December 12, 2012


Django UnchainedBack With a Vengeance: 
Tarantino Pushes Homage and Allegory to 11

You know from Tarantino’s audacious choice of intro music — the haunting theme song from Sergio Corbucci’s iconic 1966 Spaghetti Western “Django,” that the maestro-of-all-things-tasty has many surprises in store for his delighted audience. Campy, funny, shocking, and seeping with sardonic social commentary, “Django Unchained” is Quentin Tarantino’s finest film to date.

The madness of slavery, i.e. racism, hangs thick in the air of the American South circa 1858. Tarantino says of his film’s representation of the pre-Civil War South: “It can’t be more nightmarish than it was in real life. It can’t be more surrealistic than it was in real life. It can’t me more outrageous than it was in real life.” Indeed, groans of audience empathy arrive at intervals with the agony we witness on-screen. Tarantino’s allegory regarding the use of torture couldn’t be more obvious.

In typical revenge-plot fashion, Tarantino establishes the nimble bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz) as the kind of man who can get himself out of any situation. The retired dentist “purchases” freedom from slavery for Django (Jamie Foxx) to assist Schultz in identifying a trio of brothers named Brittle whose heads carry a hefty reward. Django proves more than qualified for hunting down and killing slave-owners. Working together as a team, Dr. Schultz and Django craft a complex plan to free Django’s enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the evil clutches of Leonardo DiCaprio’s plantation owner Calvin Candie. “Candyland” is name of Mr. Candie’s plantation where he cultivates “Mandingo” slave warriors who fight to the death. DiCaprio’s centerpiece monologue — wherein the actor accidentally cut his hand and chooses to use the blood draining from his hand — is the stuff of cult movie legend.


Tarantino’s plot acrobatics have never seemed silkier — or bloodier for that matter. Blood doesn’t just splatter — intestines explode from bodies. More than a pure Spaghetti Western homage, the overall piece is an exploitation cinema mutt. Every character name rings with a bell pulled from Tarantino’s vast cornucopia of movie inspirations. The big-kid auteur gives shout-outs to everything from Gordon Parks’s “Shaft” to martial arts action star Sonny Sheba. The effect is an onion-layered communal movie for film lovers to rally around. I dare say that all those involved in the making of “Django Unchained” had more fun making it than just about any other group of actors and filmmakers. The comic joys and dark delights are up there on the screen.


As with all of Tarantino’s films, “Django Unchained” is filled with spellbinding dialogue and outstanding plot twists. One such sequence of steadily building suspense arrives after Schultz has freed Django. The two men enter a bar where the owner insists that they leave immediately for the obvious reason that they don’t allow black people. Schultz handily dispatches the men and sends for the sheriff while he and Django take a seat with a couple of mugs of beer. Naturally the bigoted sheriff shows up with a chip on his shoulder that the good “doctor” is only too happy permanently remove. Shultz sends for the town Marshall, who in turn shows up with a posse of gun-toting thugs. The scene culminates in a crescendo of character-revealing magic. It’s not too early to call “Django Unchained” an instant classic. Movie lovers rejoice; Q.T. is back in the house.

Rated R. 160 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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August 18, 2012


HeavenSo much has been written about Michael Cimino’s torpedoing of United Artists studios, and his own career, with this legendary, disastrously over budget epic Western, that it takes some doing to separate the quality of the much maligned film from the mythology surrounding it.
Heaven’s Gate” (1980) was originally budgeted for $7.5 million, and wound up costing over $36 million. It made less than $3 million at the box office during its theatrical release. It was only due to Jerry Harvey’s Los Angeles-based cable “Z Channel” that “Heaven’s Gate” began to be viewed with the respect it deserves.

Coming on the heels of his overwhelming success with “The Deer Hunter,” Cimino set out to make a European-styled Western full of carefully orchestrated crowd scenes to rival the climatic ballroom dance sequence in Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard.” His casting choices would be unconventional.

The film opens with Kris Kristofferson’s lead character James Averill running to catch up with his Harvard classmates for their 1870 graduation ceremonies. Joseph Cotton’s reverend/doctor speaks to the Class of '70, of the “influence” they may exert toward the “education” of a hostile nation. Commencement speaker William C. Irvine (John Hurt) squanders his opportunity to address his peers with any such lofty aspirations, and thus sets the tone for the irresponsible attitudes of an organization called the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, which, 20 years later, creates a 125-name “kill list” to eradicate Casper, Wyoming of most of its immigrant settlers. Now serving as a federal Marshall for Johnson County, Averill stops off in Casper to woo his French madam girlfriend Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert) with a brand new horse carriage.

The film’s title derives from the name of a large canvas-roofed rollerskating rink dance hall operated by John Bridges (Jeff Bridges), a European immigrant entrepreneur. The spacious venue allows for the film’s centerpiece, a music-and-dance sequence in which the town’s immigrant community gathers to dance, rollerskate, and cavort. For all of the exorbitant cost attributed to the scene, it serves an important function in the story. Here, we are informally introduced to a community of impoverished migrants with a joyous lust for life. It is this exact type of cultural richness that a tight knit group of wealthy white cattle barons wants to wipe out. Inevitably, a small-scale war of ideologies is brewing.

Heaven's Gate

“Heaven’s Gate” examines a rarely glimpsed vision of the Old West. It is not one that American audiences at the time of the film’s release were happy to receive. To be sure, the movie was not promoted with the kind of energy attributed to mainstream fare. Nonetheless, “Heaven’s Gate” is an unforgettable film full of heartfelt sincerity and pointed commentary about America’s bloody history of hypocrisy, greed, and racism. It is worth every penny spent on it, and every bit of an audience’s time watching its three-hour-and-forty-minute running time.

Heaven's Gate

Rated R. 217 mins. (Criterion Version) (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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