Category Archives: western

Red Sun

Red Sun ~ I got turned on to this one eavesdropping on Twitter. I follow comic book writer Andy Diggle on Twitter and someone had hipped him to it. Just imagine it, a movie with Charles Bronson as a gunslinger and Toshiro Mifune as a samurai in the old west. Add in Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, music by Maurice Jarre, and direction by Terence Young – and you have Red Sun. I had to see this. How could I lose?

Also known as Soleil Rouge, the flick has Mifune as a Japanese samurai in the old West, carrying an ancient sword for the US President, which is stolen during a train robbery. Mifune teams with Bronson, one of the robbers betrayed during the heist, to get the sword back. A samurai, a cowboy, a western and a buddy movie, all with a brilliant cast and spellbinding music. I’m sold.

The film turns out to be everything I could have wished for. All the actors are perfect in this international amalgam. I don’t think I could have had more fun watching this. For once, a film that achieves everything it promises to be – a gritty western with amazing actors from all parts of the world. Great flick.

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Futureworld

Futureworld ~ I was just talking about Peter Fonda and this flick on this blog recently so when I saw Futureworld was on Encore Action, so I DVRed it. It’s been at least a serious three decades or so since I’ve last seen it. It’s nowhere near as good as I remembered it, and despite being a feature film, looks barely above television quality, bad for even a Samuel Z. Arkoff production. it does still have its merits though.

Futureworld is the 1976 sequel to the popular 1973 scifi thriller Westworld, and was followed a few years later by the very short-lived CBS TV series “Beyond Westworld,” which was even worse, as demonstrated by it only lasting five episodes.

In Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton, the Delos Corporation has created three ‘amusement parks’ – WestWorld, MedievalWorld, and RomanWorld – populated by lifelike androids where guests can indulge in any fantasy they can imagine in each park genre, including having sex with and/or killing the androids. A malfunction affecting all the robots makes them suddenly attack and kill all the guests, highlighted by the Gunslinger, as played by Yul Brynner, and terror ensues. So ends WestWorld.

In Futureworld, Delos seems to have recovered from this PR nightmare and gone back into business. Fonda and Blythe Danner are newspaper and television reporters invited to see what the new Delos is all about and make sure it’s safe. They elect to visit FutureWorld, one of the new parks that have been added. There is some great dialogue between the two regarding newspapers being dead, nice call from 1976.

Most frightening about the film is how much the parks resemble Disney in design and visuals, but I suppose that’s on purpose. On the down side the acting is abysmal and the sexism is humiliating. That the technicians must be gay or robots if they don’t succumb to Danner’s charms is one of the more pitiful bits. There’s also a painful conspiracy subplot about Delos replacing world leaders with robot doubles.

Yul Brynner as The Gunslinger does appear in footage from the first movie and in Danner’s bizarre dream sequence. Too bad he couldn’t be in more. As a true scifi movie villain, perhaps he could have dragged this flick up a few notches from its bad telemovie level.

French Fry Diary 344: Muscle Maker Grill

Rango

Rango ~ The first animated feature from George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic is a disaster.

Take Don Knotts, pump him full of hallucinogenics, and have him play a computer animated lizard. Yeah, that’s what Johnny Depp as Rango is like – and none of it in a good way. This is an ugly film with a bare skeleton of a plot that pretends to be much more than it is.

There are some interesting visuals done with the CGI, clever angles, different textures, but mostly a whole lot of ugly as it’s about desire dwelling creatures. It’s like bad scary cartoon taxidermy, and it’s hard to watch.

The bat-riding hillbilly varmits arrive much too late to save this flick. The western character templates (like Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood) and cliches, and the Chinatown comparisons and parodies can’t save it. Even the Hunter Thompson cameo in the beginning can’t save it. Avoid at all costs, unless you are a die-hard Depp fan, or need a nap.

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The End of the Western

When I heard that they were remaking True Grit I was very conflicted. The original True Grit – the one with John Wayne’s first Oscar, Kim Darby playing much younger than usual, and nowhere near as annoying as usual, non-actor Glen Campbell and his terrific title song, along with Robert Duvall and the late Dennis Hopper – that movie is a classic, and I love it. It’s in my top twenty movies of all-time, and my favorite western, period. There’s no way a remake could do it justice.

And then I heard who was doing it. I also love the Coen brothers. Ethan and Joel are among the best filmmakers of our time. The problem is that as absolutely brilliant as they are, the Coen brothers unfortunately can be hit or miss. For every Big Lebowski and O Brother, there’s a Ladykillers and Burn After Reading. While I can’t think of anyone better to remake it if it had to be remade… it still bugged me. Why did it need to be remade anyway? I just bet if they released the original to the theaters, it would be doing just as well as this new one.

The story, based on the novel by Charles Portis, in which the lead character was incidentally based on John Wayne, has young girl Mattie Ross seeking revenge on Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. To this end she hires Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Fourteen year-old and age-appropriate to the story, Hailee Steinfeld shines as Mattie Ross. I might even see an Oscar nod in her future she’s so good, and a far cry from Kim Darby. The problem is that’s about the only advantage this remake has over the original.

The number one problem is that the Coen brothers have clearly forgotten what makes a western a western. The western is a great American artform which has over the last three or four decades been forgotten in favor of the grim, gritty realism of what the old West may have really been. Like the concepts of cyberpunk, and rocketships and rayguns, this may have not been how it was, it is how it is done. Westerns have sweeping panoramic landscapes, big orchestral soundtracks, hokey country title songs and reasonable hygienic cowboys who are easily identifiable as the good guys and the bad guys. The new True Grit has none of these things.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing realism, nor am I dissing terrific stuff like “Deadwood” or Unforgiven, it’s just that not all westerns have to be like that. One critic said of Unforgiven that it was a proper eulogy for the American western. If that’s so, then the Coen’s True Grit is the final nail in that coffin. Any of the old timey brightness mentioned above that signify the westerns of old could have saved this flick in my opinion.

The movie is also very slow, a cardinal sin when it comes to action flicks of any genre, but that’s not where the rest of the problems lie – that would be in casting. As I said, Steinfeld is fine, and may yet be headed for Oscar-land, and Josh Brolin almost makes up for Jonah Hex as Tom Chaney, but the two male leads are near disastrous.

Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf is two-dimensional and boring, and when he does break free from the cardboard, he is more than a little bit creepy, especially in his interactions with his fourteen year-old employer. It was just a touch too much “To Catch a Predator” for me. Jeff Bridges is most unsatisfying filling the Duke’s shoes as Rooster Cogburn. He is neither heroic nor charismatic, or even interesting. He also mumbles and grumbles throughout, as if he had taken Batman lessons from Christian Bale. Honestly, if he had done The Dude in this flick like he did in Tron: Legacy, it would have been more tolerable.

I am stunned that this is on several folks’ top ten lists for 2010. I can only imagine they haven’t seen the original. I can only recommend this new True Grit as a curiosity or to see Hailee Steinfeld’s performance. I did not like it. See the original version, it’s far superior.

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Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex ~ My online friend Terry Willitts, who’s done a few guest blogs for me both here and at French Fry Diary, summed up this movie pretty well for me on Twitter recently. He said, “It’s not as bad as everyone made it out to be, but it’s not that good.” That just about covers it from a distance.

To me, when I heard they were making a Jonah Hex movie I was excited. This was a comic and a character that could translate to the screen well and gain a mainstream audience, and would also help convince the mainstream that comic books were not just guys flying around in their underwear. Unfortunately, the folks who made this flick didn’t read much of the source material.

While Jonah Hex is primarily a western anti-hero, the character has worked well in both supernatural and even science fiction trappings, while maintaining his own identity. He was never supernatural himself, which is why it bothered me that the movie sought to imbue him with spiritual powers like talking to the dead or to animals. It seems out of place, or worse yet like the Hex character was rewritten to fit this movie.

It’s bad enough that there are scenes and pieces of dialogue lifted from other movies, but quite a lot of this anachronistic nightmare feels like it was once a bad Wild Wild West sequel or even a rejected episode of “Brisco County Jr.”

The film, despite its numerous flaws, looks very good. And Josh Brolin both looks and acts the part of Jonah Hex. If the folks behind the scenes could get their acts together and make a real Hex flick, I would love to see Brolin once again. On the other hand, Megan Fox is just barely eye candy and John Malkovich is just over the top, and that’s saying a lot for him. Tom Wopat is surprisingly good.

On the whole, I would say that Terry got this one right. It’s not “the end of the comic book movie era” as one critic put it when it was first released, but it’s not bad. It certainly could be better however. Check it out as a curiosity, or if nothing else is on.

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Sukiyaki Western Django

Sukiyaki Western Django ~ I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down to watch this one. While I am familiar with the works of Takashi Miike, I had no idea how he was going to meld the legend of spaghetti western anti-hero Django into some sort of modern day samurai western. The Django I knew was from director Sergio Cambucci and featured Franco Nero as the man who dragged a coffin behind him, which secretly held a gatling gun. The violent nature of the character and his world fit Takashi but still I wondered about what it was. In the end, I wonder if even Takashi knew what the film really was.

The tale is that of warring clans of feudal Japan, but taking place in some surreal old west, a world of both gunplay and swordplay, a Nevada in a Japanese desert. It is wholly unique, with hip pop cult blood running through its veins and down its legs. The Japanese actors speaking broken English is strange and awkward, but somehow fitting. Sergio Leone would have been proud, and he would have also been confused. Quentin Tarantino plays well in his cameo, but his scenes are painfully short. He might have saved this.

Oh, it’s pretty, and visually stunning. While it is a marvel to look at, even when it borderlines between cartoon and bad stage play, it really has no plot whatsoever and is just a series of fights and visuals one after another. Pretty with little substance, and bristling with winks and nods to several genres, it comes off more like a parody than an homage. And I doubt that’s what Takashi Miike was after. It hurts me as well. I love this stuff, and I didn’t want to laugh at it, I wanted to laugh along with it. Unfortunately the former happened more than the latter. Must see, but maybe only once, just for the visceral experience.

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