Trailer: The Homesman

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If you never saw Tommy Lee Jones’s 2005 directorial debut The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, do yourself a favor and get a copy of it. If you never watched his follow up feature, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited (my review), then you’ve missed out on a masterpiece.

Needless to say, I’m eager to watch his next feature, The Homesman, which is his take on a classic western tale. He’ll also be starring in the film alongside Hilary Swank, who plays a woman who recruits Jones’s character to help her escort three mentally unstable women from Nebraska to Iowa.

If the plot doesn’t do much for you, maybe the rest of the cast will: Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, William Fichtner, James Spader, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer (Streep’s daughter), and Jesse Plemons round out the cast.

While the film premieres at Cannes back in May, it hits theaters stateside on November 7, 2014.

Trailer: A Million Ways To Die In the West

How Seth McFarlane got Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried to star in this is beyond my ken. But here it is, nonethless: A cheeky, silly, gory and frankly two-bit parody of ‘The American Frontier’ that looks to be planned out on the back of a cocktail napkin. Blazing Saddles this aint. If McFarlane is going for the inanity and diminishing returns of the Wayan Brothers’ ‘xxxx-Movie’ franchise, all that is proven here is that Keenon Ivory and Marlon are better actors than he. I’ll give it this though, the posters are pun fun though.

Your mileage may vary.

DVD Review: Sweetwater

Other than a musical performance of The Blue Danube by some townfolks at one point, there is little sugar in the western town they call Sweetwater. There is, however, unfettered corruption in all positions of authority. The bank, bears the ironic moniker of Hugh’s Integrity and Trust, but Hugh (the always excellent Stephen Root) takes great delight in the act of all but robbing his customers. The current sheriff is a lazy and incompetent blowhard and the local brothel madame (Amy Madigan)sold her own daughter into the prostitute trade without a second thought about it. The general store’s proprietor has a Porky’s style peephole for watching the few ladies in town strip down to their underwear when trying on the fancy dresses he retails. All are under the iron fist of Josiah, the preacher and literal shepherd who runs the biggest Ranch in the valley, called Holy Land (a western counterpart to Django Unchained’s Candi Land.) Josiah is tightly wound, spiritually crazy and exudes 24 karat hypocrisy through every pore of his alabaster skin. Jason Isaacs, here plays one of those great mustache twirling madmen who at one point crucifies someone on an upside down cross. Sweetwater is that kind of movie.

Saddling up a near A-list cast of character actors heaping on gobs of production-value, in the parlance of our times, Sweetwater is a western trashterpiece. The film might be an acquired taste, but for those who might detect its tannins and notes of ironic humour and wordplay in the story, there are many, many delights. In rapid succession we are introduced to a bearded Mormon-Prophet Josiah and his particular brand of apocalyptic preaching, the playfully competent prancing hired lawman, Jackson (Ed Harris – whose manner and wardrobe seem to be channeling Doctor Who), and the straight-backed frontierswoman, Sarah (January Jones) frolicking with her Mexican husband, Miguel (Eduardo Noriega) on their dusty ranch property in the dusky evening. We will watch all of these actors chew scenery in their own fashion over the course of the next 100 minutes. They will make elaborate speeches, offer flinty glares, and dwell a bit in their idiosyncrasies before the obligatory climax in which everyone will shoot at each other. But O Brother! What scenery will be chewed before we get there.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: Unforgiven

I was holding out that we might get an English subtitled version of this trailer a short while after it went up unsubbed at Twitch on Friday, but such is not the case. It’s too long to wait to so here us the gorgeous first look at the Sang-il Lee’s Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1991 classic Unforgiven. Even if the Zhang Yimou’s Chinese re-envisioning of Blood Simple as A Woman, A Gun and A Noodleshop didn’t quite pan out, I fully expect the awareness of Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai, Batman Begins, Letters from Iwo Jima) as well as the source material (and a bit of a hunger for well produced samurai films), to get this a sizeable North American theatrical release at some point. Satô Kôichi and Jun Kunimura co-star.

Trailer: Sweetwater

Despite a fair number of film roles, it appears thus far, Mad Men‘s January Jones has not been able to break meaningfully into the cinema. Here, writer-director Logan Miller has gone and anchored a film around her as an avenging angel in a purple dress.

In the late 1800s, a fanatical religious leader, a renegade Sheriff, and a former prostitute collide in a blood triangle on the rugged plains of the New Mexico Territory. Those western archetypes are played with a little bot of that old time scenery chewing by Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs and of course, Ms. Jones. They may be hard to spot, but the talented Eduardo Noreiga and Stephen Root (also cameo-ing in the much larger scale The Lone Ranger) round out the supporting cast. While Sweetwater does not appear to be re-writing any of the rules in the genre, its nice to see that some folks are interested in keeping the good old fashioned exploitation western alive and kicking.

I plan on catching the film during its lone screening Fantasia on July 22nd. But for those in the UK, the film was released on DVD in June under the title Sweet Vengeance. No release in the USA outside of the festival circuit seems to be forthcoming, yet.

The Long Ranger – Why Size Does Matter in Westerns

After a rather vocal defense on the last Cinecast episode, I want to elaborate on one of the chief criticisms of Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger – the films 149 minute run time. A length which is actually closer 140 minutes of ‘movie’ (forgive me credit purists!) due to lengthy post credit sequence for a studio film north of $200 Million. At the peak of the western genre, there were often zero closing credits as films used to front-load things back then, while things were actually happening on screen during the credit sequence. I know that the genre has seen the sun set on its hay-day, but I’m quite thankful that a big corporation as Disney, and an ADHD peddler such as Jerry Bruckheimer managed to make a film that is quite true to the spirit of a genre that often showcased a lot of patience in its storytelling, in spite of it also being the dawn of ‘action cinema’ for Hollywood.

We’ve come a long way from 1903’s 12 minute one-reeler, The Great Train Robbery, in terms of how stories are told. Considering that The Lone Ranger has two origin stories, as well as a fiendish plot on the go, this runtime seems reasonable enough, and audiences and critics are attacking the films ‘bloat’ rather than noting that the westerns have almost always trafficked in taking their time ‘smelling the desert roses’ and breathing in the landscape (and ruminating on what is America) before getting to their chief setpiece or climax.

Here is a (rather incomplete, I’m guessing) list of well-respected Westerns (with the possible exception of Paint Your Wagon – are their fans of this musical?) with congruous runtimes:

Once Upon A Time in The West – 175 minutes – Sergio Leone’s film is often the template for Gore Verbinski’s film, focusing on the growing pains of the arrival of the railroad to the frontier, evil white corporate bosses and their dusty-faced henchmen. While it’s not handled in quite the virtuoso fashion, there is a subtle nod to the memorable opening of Leone’s pic as the The Lone Ranger’s first action set-piece is staged while four anonymous gunfighters (here Texas Rangers) are waiting for the train to arrive with our heroes (sans mouth-organ) on board.

How The West Was Won – 164 minutes – A large part of this John Ford (and company) ‘Westward Expansion’ pageantry was to display the new widescreen technology Cinerama, and that might attribute to its epic length, but audiences sure loved the pure spectacle of the thing.

The Magnificent Seven – 128 minutes – You cannot remake Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai without a lengthy runtime, even as the story here is simple. Although, this is the shortest western on the list.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – 161 minutes – The closest thing to a ‘comic book western’ (well until The Quick and The Dead came along) manages to come close to three hours (still shorter than Michael Cimino’s studio killer, Heaven’s Gate) for a most basic narrative – but the film is worth every single minute of on screen.

Duck, You Sucker – 138 minutes – OK, so Sergio Leone simply makes long movies, and the western was his genre. But this WWII allegory makes the most of its time on screen, and is quite the overlooked gem.

Heaven’s Gate – 219 minutes – 30+ years of time (as well as Los Angeles pay-cable Z-Channel pimping the director’s cut) have brought this reviled western back into the good graces of cinephiles. That’s a wholelottafilm.

The Wild Bunch – 145 minutes – Sam Peckinpah brought the ultraviolence to the Western in a way that was positively shocking at the time, and is still fully engrossing, perhaps even moreso, now.

Dances With Wolves – 181 minutes – Kevin Costner’s Oscar winning picture ran for well over a year in first-run cinemas back in the 1990s – this feat of longevity with the moviegoing audience is unheard of today.

Unforgiven – 131 minutes – Another Oscar winner that doesn’t scrimp on run-time, and turns a simple premise into a complete re-evaluation of the western genre (see also The Wild Bunch and The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford)

Paint Your Wagon – 149 minutes – OK, I had to put a singing western in here, Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin croon for well over 2 hours, folks.

The Outlaw Josey Wales – 135 minutes – Clint Eastwoods first revisionist western back in 1976 is a film brought up in conjunction with The Lone Ranger because folks feel it has a more fair-and-balance at much of America’s ancestral past and the destiny of the nation (and first Nations) after the American Civil War.

Little Big Man – 139 minutes – Yet another revisionist (and quite successful) oater that also functioned as a satire of the Vietnam War. This film has been getting mentioned in the Lone Ranger conversation for its framing story, and its portrayal of First Nations people.

Rio Bravo – 141 minutes – Howard Hawks remade this John Wayne film twice after his original successful go with it in 1959: Eldorado (126 minutes) in 1967 with Robert Mitchum, and Rio Lobo (114 minutes) in 1970 with Wayne again. John Carpenter managed to get the run time down to 90 minutes with his contemporary remake of the film, this time set a police station. The whole idea of a ‘siege film’ pretty much stems from Rio Bravo, and this lengthy affair did not seem to bother anyone at the time.

Open Range – 139 minutes – Kevin Costner makes long movies (see also Wyatt Earp, 191 minutes!), and this is no exception. But he delivers a great modern western that sweetly takes its time with its storytelling which makes the shootout at the end all the more powerful.

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford – 160 Minutes – OK, so audiences never went out to see this in droves, many hated it outright and walked out. But nevertheless, there are many who consider it the best film of 2007, and this is a year which was probably the best for cinema in the 21st century.

The Good, The Bad and The Weird – 139 minutes – Kim Ji-Woon’s Kimchi-western which brings a South Korean flavour to the Spaghetti Western may be a bit self-indulgent at times, but it also has Japanese imperialism and Korean indifference and greed on its brain, making it both rip-roaring entertainment, as well as a critique of history.

Django Unchained – 165 minutes – Although branded a ‘Southern’ rather than a western, was anyone complaining about this epic runtime?

Blindspotting: Shane and Gunfight At The O.K. Corral

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I called an audible this month and decided to do a couple of classics I hadn’t listed in my initial Blindspot post back in January. It was simply a matter of circumstances – poor planning and being away from my normal supply of movies at the end of the month had left me scrambling. Fortunately, I was able to grab hold of a couple of Westerns I’ve had on the list for quite some time now (Shane and Gunfight At The O.K. Corral). Unfortunately, time started to slip away from me and I ended up being 2 weeks late with this post anyway…And though I’m just now sitting down to write and it’s been awhile since I’ve watched them, I don’t think it’ll be an issue since both movies easily left impressions. One about a man trying to avoid the violence of his past and the other all about the lead up to a violent showdown.

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Both make lovely use of technicolor to bring out the big blue skies of the Old West, but the earlier Shane (from ’53) loses some of the grandness of the vistas around its characters by having been shot in straight academy ratio (as widescreen wasn’t quite the default at this stage). However, I could see it as having been an intentional choice by director George Stevens even if it had been a decade later. The film is very much a “small” Western and focuses specifically on this localized area and its people. From the moment Shane rides up to the homestead of Joe Starrett at the outset of the film, you know that he has a history – possibly even a legendary one – but it never supersedes the immediate story of the small community of farmers (which includes Joe, his wife and son). They are all fighting to keep their little plots of land from the clutches of a cattle rancher named Ryker and his greasy sidekicks, but tensions have been escalating even more of late since he has upped his bullying tactics. He sees all these farmers as simply squatters on tiny parcels of land that prevent him from laying claim to the entire area. His plan of driving them out one by one seems like it might just work, but just Shane happens to stumble into this simmering boil while riding through. After stopping briefly to get some water from Joe, he sees Ryker and his men make their regular muscle-flexing round to Starrett’s place and provides some needed backup as Joe stands up to them. After a meal in return, Joe asks Shane if he’d like to stay on with his family and get paid for working on the farm. Not really knowing what he’s looking for (only what he’s trying to avoid), Shane accepts. He’s quickly become fond of little Joey (who sees him as a courageous gunslinger) and is a bit smitten by Joe’s lovely wife Marian (played by the great Jean Arthur). As much as Shane wants to avoid his past fighting ways, though, it’s obvious that further confrontations are imminent. However, the story is less about Shane’s past catching up with him and more about the personal issues of trying to change your own nature.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: They Die By Dawn

Now don’t get too excited. I should probably get out of the way that this isn’t a feature film, but a 30 minute short directed by usual musician Jeymes Samuel of The Bullitts. Now, how Samuel was able to get such an impressive cast, I’m not sure – but boy, did he ever. With Michael K Williams (isn’t this enough to warrant our attention?), Isaiah Washington, Giancarlo Esposito, Nate Parker, Jesse Williams, Erykah Badu, and Rosario Dawson (IMDb also lists Idris Elba, but he’s nowhere to be seen in the trailer), there is absolutely no doubt that this short film is going to rock.

Well, okay… it does look cheesy. And it may look a little too sleek and polished for those who like their westerns on the gritty/Peckinpah side. But remember that this dude’s a musician and appreciate the fact that he brought all of these awesome actors together… for a western. Mostly, I’m just eager to see Omar and Gus on screen together.

Review: Good For Nothing

Here is a western that is hard to pin down. An odd little comedy that is as dry as the Kiwi grasslands and perhaps as infertile. It has spectacular New Zealand vistas filling in for John Ford’s Monument Valley, but diverges wildly from any sort of Hollywood (or Italian) formula by making sexual impotence the driving force of the story. With unlikeliness as the byword – a charming rape-romance? – Good For Nothing boldly has its anti-hero, billed only as The Man, voice his first line of dialogue, “My dick’s broke.” My Darling Clementine this ain’t, but the film is not without a slew of eccentric charms.

The film opens with a train crawling across the barren landscape. Now, trains can be surely act as a metaphor for anything in the movies. In the western, specifically, they usually stand in progress or civilization or change, here perhaps the intimation is decidedly phallic. I’m getting ahead of myself. On the train is Isabella Montgomery, a well heeled but feisty English-woman who is being reluctantly handed off by her chaperone to her Uncle’s men charged with escorting her to the isolated estate where she is to, presumably, make a life. A less than wise rest stop at a seedy bar for a whiskey (water for the lady) quickly devolves into a triple murder with the killer kidnapping Isabella for a “poke” in the woods. She resists, he can’t get it up and the film tips its hand of cards and lands somewhere between a comedy of manners and the pathology of Stockholm Syndrome.

As they wander around the wilderness, a dysfunctional Bonnie & Clyde, he is looking for a medicine man (Chinese, Native American, whatever works) to have his ‘soldier stand to attention,’ while she tries to escape. The Man spits and grunts like an uncouth savage, while Isabella is stripped down to her corset & undies and tied to the pommel of his saddle like any other piece of survival gear. With each violent encounter (yes, those medicine men), her white skirts get shorter as she binds wounds, both hers and his, with the fabric. The increasing exposure in the unrelenting heat merely makes Isabella’s skin gently perspire in the desert sun. Good For Nothing is hardly the bodice-ripping romance novel that the last sentence implies. It can be cruel at times, showing off an alarming number of head shots and penetrating wounds – The writer/director, Mike Wallis, was one of the Weta-Wizards on Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Avatar – but the film is never without a droll (nearly imperceptible) wink at its own over-ripe silliness. The film brims with subtle innuendo. A strange cocktail that is not at all camp, but more along the lines of the most restrained screwball comedy ever made. An equally impotent, or rather, incompetent posse is also after the couple – mistakenly thinking that Isabella is the Man’s accomplice and whore – the cutaway to the hunters provides more comic relief before the film ‘climaxes’ in its own jolly-good brand or moral relativism. The penis is tamed but not broken and the lady stands tall, looking into the distance in with her hair blowing in the breeze. Maybe it is a romance after all.

Good For Nothing opens theatrically in New York today, March 9th.