23 posts categorized "Western"

December 12, 2012

DJANGO UNCHAINED — CLASSIC FILM PICK

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ColeSmithey.comBack 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. Our two heroes enter a bar where the white owner insists that they leave immediately for the obvious reason that they don’t allow black people. Schultz handily dispatches the man, and sends for the sheriff while he and Django take a seat with a couple of mugs of beer.

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Naturally the bigoted sheriff shows up with a chip on his shoulder that the good “doctor” is only too happy to 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.

5 Stars SHOCKTOBER! KITTIESCozy Cole

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August 18, 2012

HEAVEN'S GATE — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

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ColeSmithey.comSo 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.

Heaven's Gate

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.

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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.

Screen Shot 2022-12-23 at 11.20.23 PM

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.

Heaven's Gate

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.

Screen Shot 2022-12-23 at 11.16.42 PM

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.

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“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.

Rated R. 217 mins. 

5 StarsBMOD COLE2

Cozy Cole

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February 06, 2012

THE WILD BUNCH — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

  ColeSmithey.comGroupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

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“ColeSmithey.com”








ColeSmithey.comIn 1969 Sam Peckinpah made the greatest example of the western genre in cinema. Not many American audiences at the time could recognize it as such, in part, because Warner Brothers edited down Peckinpah's original 144-minute version to allow for more theatrical screenings in the United States.

Set in 1913, on the eve of World War I, the episodic story follows the robbing, drinking, and whoring exploits of a gang of middle-aged outlaws out to make one last bank heist that will enable them to retire.

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Peckinpah sets the gritty tone for the violence to follow with an opening credit scene of children gleefully watching a swarm of red ants attacking a couple of defenseless scorpions whose large claws and stinging tails are of no use against such a large number of pernicious insects. A primordial aspect of history repeating itself is at play.

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William Holden's Pike Bishop leads his gang of renegades dressed as American soldiers into a Texas border town. Their military uniforms blind the local citizenry to the group's wicked threat. Little do the thieves themselves realize that a posse of bounty hunters line the roofs of buildings facing the town square where the bank in question awaits.

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Inspired by Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde," Peckinpah orchestrates a speed-shifting ballet of bullets in a bloody gunfight that leaves bystanders lying dead alongside posse members and dudes from Pike’s gang. Never before had a western shown such a potent version of gunshot violence and gore. Informed by the realities of the Viet Nam war — televised nightly at the time — Peckinpah sought to bring such realism to his audience with a vengeance.

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Upon their escape, the remaining gang discovers insult added to injury in the guise of worthless steel washers that fill the bank bags once believed filled with gold.

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Pike and his right-hand man Dutch (Earnest Borgnine) ride off toward Mexico with their cohorts, the outlaw brothers Lyle (Warren Oates) and Tector (Ben Johnson) and their Mexican comrade Angel (Jamie Sanchez). After crossing the Rio Grande the gang find that the Mexican Revolution has devastated the region where Angel was born. A local despot called Mapache (Emilio Fernandez) rules the region with the support of the Mexican Federal Army. Angel is none too pleased when he finds his wife has run off to play girlfriend to Mapache. Angel’s subsequent act of revenge indebts the gang to Mapache. A deal is brokered for the gang to rob a U.S. Army train transporting weapons.

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Famous for its breathtaking bridge explosion sequence, “The Wild Bunch” is a western layered with social commentary about war, codes of honor among men, and humanity’s childish nature that bends equally between violence and pleasure. The film’s brilliant cinematography (courtesy of Lucien Ballard) and dynamic editing (by Lou Lombardo) impeccably serves Peckinpah’s uncompromising vision. “The Wild Bunch” is a post-modern western that represents the passing of an era. It is an epic masterpiece that changed cinema forever.

Rated R. 135 mins.

5 StarsColeSmithey.com

Cozy Cole

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